Data-storage company selects fiber for its network

In deciding among a fiber/copper, all-fiber, and all-optical network solution to its high-bandwidth needs, Crossroads was at the crossroads.

By John Wages

When you're storing, retrieving, managing, or protecting your server data, you need the fastest, most reliable system possible-and you need a backup solution that integrates with legacy storage devices and offloads gigabit traffic leads. That's why Crossroads, a leading supplier of data-storage solutions, designed a solution based on its own software and fiber-optic gigabit storage routers. The storage-area network (SAN) that the company markets is a high-speed fiber-optic backbone that can quickly transfer massive amounts of server data to Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) storage devices.

When Crossroads moved into a new 63,000-square-foot facility in Austin, TX, the company needed a cabling system that would keep pace with its strong growth and high-bandwidth needs-an all-optical network that brings fiber to the desktop of each of its employees.

Fiber may well seem like a natural fit, given Crossroads' product line, but the company chose an optical solution the same way any other company makes an infrastructure decision-after weighing several options with respect to its current and future needs. The company wanted a solution that was cost-effective and space-efficient and provided the most bandwidth possible.

Crossroads asked XO Spec, a certified installer, to specify, design, and install the cabling system. The installation team evaluated solutions that included copper, a mix of fiber and copper, and an all-optical network. After considering the options, the team chose the fiber network because it offered the best value and performance.

"Crossroads' engineers drive very data-intensive applications," explains Robert Miller, senior information-technology/information-systems manager at Crossroads. "We needed a network that would guarantee our users high performance. We felt that by making a substantial investment in our cabling-system infrastructure, the benefits would help us maintain a technological edge that will continue to benefit our customers."

Miller says the company also saw its fiber network as an investment. "We thought that the best way to futureproof our cabling infrastructure was to install a high-performance fiber cabling system that is flexible enough to adopt new technologies. Then we can forget about it," he notes. "As new technology is developed, we will simply replace the active optical equipment."

Space was another benefit. "The fiber solution also allowed Crossroads to maximize its usable space on each floor," adds XO Spec account manger Stan Potts. "Compared to a traditional copper architecture, fiber allowed us to minimize the dedicated space for telecommunication crossconnections. As a result, Crossroads was able to utilize that space for other purposes."

Together, Crossroads and XO Spec determined that they would run one four-pair voice-grade copper cable and one three-pair 62.5/125-micron fiber cable to each workstation. The installation used small-form-factor (SFF) connectors in combination with the Siemon Fiber Outlet Box (FOB).

Since network manageability was a concern, the network uses a collapsed backbone design. That allowed Crossroads to centralize network management in one room where the IT/IS department can easily manage the cabling infrastructure.

Key to the success of the installation is that XO Spec worked closely with Crossroads, the architects, and the contractors right from the beginning to specify clear pathways, place conduit for the fiber runs, make sure bend-radius guides were in place, and maintain a clean work environment. That helped ensure a smooth and efficient installation process, with minimal problems.

Crossroads employees began to move into the new facility as XO Spec was completing the installation. This overlap gave the XO team the chance to work directly with Crossroads' IT/IS department to ensure that the installed cabling infrastructure provided the performance and maintenance benefits that Crossroads required.

Once the system was up and running, the Crossroads IT/IS team had quickly realized the benefits to the fiber solution. Miller says that centralizing electronics has brought several advantages. "Having one location to troubleshoot user problems or administer moves, adds, and changes has proved to be of tremendous benefit. It greatly improves our department's overall effectiveness," he explains.

Another benefit, made possible in part by the small footprint of the SFF connectors, is that Crossroads was able to purchase fewer but higher-quality switches. "Instead of buying several lower-end switches," says Miller, "we were able to concentrate our investment in a few higher-end switches, with more intelligent methods of directing traffic, such as packet prioritization, which means that the active equipment is intelligent enough to give priority to critical applications. We are only just now realizing how much of a benefit that is."

For Crossroads employees, the performance benefits of the fiber-to-the-desk solution were immediate. Crossroads utilizes a centralized 100Base-FX network and maintains a Gigabit Ethernet environment at the server level. That allows their engineers to maximize the efficiency of their network and transfer data at incredible speed.

"On average, our users can expect to transfer 10 Mbytes in 3 sec on our network," notes Miller. "This enables Crossroads engineers to reduce the design time for a particular server or software package and improve the time-to-market for Crossroads' products."

John Wages, associate product manager at the Siemon Co., wrote this column on behalf of the TIA Fiber Optics LAN Section (FOLS). Member companies include 3M/Volition, Allied Telesyn International, AMP Netconnect, Aura Networks, Belden Wire & Cable, Berk-Tek, CommScope, Corning, Corning Cabling Systems, Leviton Voice and Data Div., Lucent Technologies, Micro Linear, Ortronics, Panduit, the Siemon Co., Sumitomo Electric Lightwave, Sun Conversion Technologies, and Transition Networks. Visit the FOLS Website at www.fols.org.

Lightwave is a monthly international publication focusing on fiber optics and optoelectronics, the technologies driving the growth, convergence, and improved performance of telephony, computer communications, and video. Lightwave provides technology news as well as applications and product information for corporate and technical managers and staff engineers. Lightwave's editors emphasize analysis and interpretation in their reports on the technological impact of fiber-optic components, systems, and networks in these markets.

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