This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Ryland Marek, business development manager for 3M Communication Markets Division.
To keep up with the demand on their local area networks (LANs), businesses and government entities have begun to replace their copper-based networks with fiber optics. Fiber-based passive optical LAN (POL) technology has emerged as a particularly promising alternative for enterprises in need of a secure, converged network with increased bandwidth.
POL is a point-to-multipoint network architecture optimized for local area network (LAN) environments to provide a fiber-to-the-desktop solution. In POL designs, unpowered (hence passive) optical splitters enable a single optical fiber to serve multiple end points (i.e. workstations) with voice, data and video services. This architecture accommodates a significant amount of traffic over a lightweight, all-fiber passive infrastructure while shrinking IT equipment footprint.
Fiber LANs are quickly becoming desired solutions for larger operations that depend heavily on their networks. Some of the enterprises now taking advantage of POL technology for their network include government agencies, large corporations, university campuses, airports, and hotels.
Here’s why your enterprise can’t afford to ignore passive optical LAN technology:
Optimized bandwidth handling
POL technology allows bandwidth to be distributed on an as-needed basis. It can also provide specified bursts of up to 1 Gbps per port to support bandwidth-hungry applications. This capability, called dynamic bandwidth allocation, allows more users on the network and can provide a higher quality of service with reduced bottlenecks, slowdowns and downtime compared to a copper network’s dedicated bandwidth.
POL architectures mirror PON technology commonly used in the access network. PON was developed for and deployed in the U.S. by a major telecommunications carrier more than a decade ago. A POL network can support “five nines” (99.999 percent) uptime and advanced redundancy features at the LAN level. The technology is so proven that some of the U.S.’s most vital government agencies use POL networks for mission-critical national security applications where reliability is essential.
Disruptive total cost of ownership
Installing an all-fiber passive optical LAN isn’t as expensive as one might think. Instead of installing the typical two to four home-run copper cables from the communications closet to every work area, now only one lightweight, small-diameter single-fiber cable can be deployed, allowing considerable savings in infrastructure materials and installation labor. Moreover, the many distribution and workgroup switches, cables and wiring closets found in a traditional copper-based LAN scenario are not required by POL architectures, which can result in significant savings in telecom room build-out and space required.
But the savings don’t end there. Unlike copper-based LANs, fiber networks do not require powered components at the floor or building distribution locations to boost signal. Thus, a POL can significantly reduce power consumption compared to a copper-based Ethernet network. Add in lower monitoring and maintenance costs, and a POL system can result in up to an 80 percent savings in ongoing operational expenses compared to a copper system.i
A greener footprint
As discussed above, a POL network can dramatically reduce energy use. In addition, it requires much less cabling and infrastructure than a copper network, reducing consumption of plastic and metal materials. This reduction in energy and materials could help enterprises reach sustainability milestones and certifications.
Future proofs your network
Many enterprises that have replaced all their communications wiring with Cat 5 or Cat 5e cable can already see the capacity of their networks strained. Soon will come the day when all that new wiring will need to be ripped out again and replaced with Cat 6 or Cat 6A cable. Fiber eliminates the need for forklift upgrades of the cabling. With singlemode fiber harboring the ability to support data rates in excess of 60 Tbps (that’s terabit per second) over long distances, today’s fiber cable will likely carry us well into the future.
Improved network security
POL technology supports the highly secure AES 128-bit (advanced encryption standard) protocol as well as other advanced identification and authentication features. Some vendors’ POL platforms have passed the extensive information assurance test requirements of the U.S. Department of Defense Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC). These tests evaluate security features of the network equipment and assess their ability to support critical and highly secure military and government agency networks. Government entities were, in fact, early adopters of POL technology, beginning in 2009.
The passive optical LAN platform offers the enterprise a more robust and durable alternative than copper structured cabling solutions common today. The POL platform makes so much sense, it’s difficult to find a downside. It can help enterprises meet their network needs now and for decades to come.
i“Debunking the Myths About Optical LAN,” Tellabs whitepaper, 2013.