What is Optical Headroom? 5 Best Ways to Test It

optical headroom pic

Every second, 127 new devices hook up to the internet for the first time, adding to the 10 billion connected devices already accessing data networks. By 2025, there will be an estimated 41.6 billion connected devices, and these devices will generate 79.4 zettabytes of data. And as more devices connect across the world, creating more and more data, data speeds are also increasing. Add to this the massive rollout of 5G networks and you have the critical need for bandwidth and more optical headroom.

The development of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and hyper-convergence are also driving the need for network speeds upwards of 800Gb. Data centers are struggling to meet the demand for faster speeds and the influx of newly created data. Their current fiber optic equipment can only scale so far or be tweaked so much before it reaches the limits of its optical headroom.

Why Does Optical Headroom Matter?

Optical headroom describes the performance of a fiber-optic cabling system. The fiber optic equipment currently in use has limits. And while data center managers can add cross-connects to their fiber for increased flexibility or more optical tabs for increased security, they can only go so far before exceeding the limits of their current fiber installation. At that point, they need better fiber optic installations to increase their optical headroom and meet the demand for higher speeds and increased data creation without harming network performance.

Types of data center power whips

The Need for Better Cable Installation and Cable Testing

Datacenter cable installations come with a fixed allowable power budget. As they exceed that power budget and connectivity loss increases, they lose optical headroom, and their network performance inevitably suffers for it. This problem will become worse for them as data speeds increase and more devices connect to networks. Datacenter managers need to implement robust testing of their data center interconnects to keep them running at full capacity and effectively troubleshoot network issues that come with insufficient optical headroom.

Related: Best Base-8 Fiber Optic Cable Connectors

Troubleshooting Fiber Optics Through Cable Testing

Data centers managers have a few options when it comes to cable testing. They can implement cable testing measures such as:

Ensuring clean fiber connections

Contaminated fiber connections are the top cause of optical network downtime. Fiber optic cables run between 5 and 100 microns in diameter, which means any contaminant can have catastrophic effects on connectivity. As such, data centers need to carefully inspect all fiber cable connectors before hooking them into an existing network.

Testing and troubleshooting physical cabling infrastructure

Changes to physical cabling after installation can cause network problems and downtime for data centers. These changes usually occur during moves or add-ons to the existing cabling. Physical stress to cables can cause them to improperly transmit light. Reversed polarity in multifiber and duplex MPO connectors or contaminated fiber end-faces will cause the same problem. As such, data centers need to test cross-connect cables against industry standards for length, correct polarity, and optic loss to prevent transmission problems.

Testing active optical cable and direct attach copper

Active optical cables and direct attach copper cables can cause network errors due to cable defects, including incorrect polarities, excessive bends, EMI problems with DACs, and pinched or crushed optic fibers. AOC/DOC cables should be tested before installation, with gear specifically designed to do so, to prevent bad cables from being integrated into the cabling system.

Performing an optics self-test

In fiber-optic technology, optical transceiver modules convert electrical signals from switches or routers into optical signals that can be received and transmitted through fiber optic cables. They are a critical component of optical systems, and yet or often overlooked or left untested. Handheld tools are available to troubleshoot performance issues in high-speed optics and can help isolate those issues caused by pluggable OTMs. 

Performing fiber monitoring

Datacenter fiber links require constant monitoring to alert managers to fiber degradation, cuts, or intrusion that can cause network problems and downtime. Data centers can use rack-mounted OTDRs to monitor the fibers in their optical networks. These OTDRs run out of the box without any additional IT configuration or training. They can alert managers to fiber optic events just minutes after they occur, improving network security and performance.

RelatedWhat Are Optical Transceivers?

Have you identified flaws in your fiber optic cable system through cable testing? C&C Technology Group can help you find the right cabling solution to meet your data center’s needs! 

Fiber chords

Future-Proofing Data Center Fiber Optic Cabling for Optical Headroom

Moving forward, data centers will need to invest in advanced fiber-optic systems if they wish to gain the optical headroom that they need to meet higher network speeds and increased data creation. Otherwise, they will continue to encounter network issues, downtime, and problems with low latency, which will only worsen as time goes on and network demands grow more intense.

Each data center will have different cable infrastructures shortcomings and thus different fiber optic needs. Datacenter managers need to compare their system needs with emerging fiber optic technologies to find the right solution for their cable network problems.

For example, OFS improved the geometric and optical specifications for its multimode fiber products. By doing so, it produced enhanced fiber optic solutions that increased optical headroom for 1-Gbit/sec and 10-Gbit/sec premise applications. Data centers that utilized these new fiber products benefitted from better network reliability and design flexibility. 

Headroom cable testing can help data centers identify the weak points in their cabling systems and plan future fiber installations around them. But without knowing what their problem is, data centers cannot find the solution. Implementing robust testing measures now will enable them to meet network demands created by faster network speeds and find the fiber optic solutions needed to gain optical headroom in the future.

Optical Headroom Final Thoughts

Data network speeds are increasing, and more internet-enabled devices are accessing networks every second. Data centers are already straining to meet this increased demand on their fiber-optic networks. By instituting proper cable testing and investing in better fiber optic equipment now, they can ensure they have the optical headroom needed to meet that increasing demand in the future, without risking network downtown or further latency issues.

Do you need to optimize your data center’s cable network? C&C Technology Group will work with you to optimize your cabling strategy and gain the optical headroom you need to meet future data network demands!

Last Updated on August 2, 2022 by Josh Mahan

Scroll to Top