Software-defined what?

Even if terms like "bare metal," "white box," "SDN" and "NFV" mean very little to you now, chances are they will become part of your professional lexicon before too long.

From the August, 2015 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

By Patrick McLaughlin

Even if terms like "bare metal," "white box," "SDN" and "NFV" mean very little to you now, chances are they will become part of your professional lexicon before too long. They are used in the sphere of software-defined networking (SDN), and as an article in this issue states ("For cabling, SDN can hit close to home," p. 11), technological advancements at higher network layers sooner or later have real impact on the layer-one cabling infrastructure.

The article says it could be a case of "sooner" rather than "later" that SDN affects cabling, pointing specifically to one company, Fiber Mountain, that is aiming to make high-performance fiber-optic cabling a crucial, fundamental enabling technology of more-efficient networking.

After hearing and reading a few things about the company, I had the opportunity to personally interview its founder, M.H. Raza. We were not strangers; Raza had been an executive with a structured cabling vendor a few years ago, and we had met a handful of times then. By the time of our recent meeting, Raza knew the answer to the question, "Is Patrick smarter than a fifth grader?" So when he explained what his company can accomplish, he did it in a way that even I could understand. Now I'll do my best to relay it here, using the analogy of automobile traffic to data traffic. A popular destinatiion (the beach, the big game, concert, whatever) is on the opposite side of two, four-lane bridges. When everyone is trying to get to that destination, the four-lane bridge in is jammed, and traffic crawls when it moves at all. Meanwhile the four-lane bridge out is basically empty. Fast forward to the end of the weekend, after the game, after the show, whatever. Now the bridge out is a virtual parking lot and the bridge in is basically unused.

In the cases of events like games and concerts, the reality is that traffic control often will open several lanes of the outbound bridge to let inbound traffic enter before the event; afterward, several lanes of the inbound bridge accommodate outbound traffic.

Now picture the lanes of the bridge as fiber-optic connections that can change direction instantly, when traffic requires such change, without the planning and logistics inherent in a big event.

Fiber Mountain developed what essentially amounts to software-defined fiber-optic connections, using the fiber cable and connectivity you're already familiar with. So even if bare metal, white box, SDN and NFV don't mean that much to you, this might. It's probably worth investigating.

Patrick McLaughlin
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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