Partnership between Legrand and Fiber Mountain brings dynamic fiber connections to data centers

Legrand is incorporating Fiber Mountain's Glass Core system into its portfolio of physical-layer offerings, providing opex benefits of error-free management.

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By Patrick McLaughlin

The partnership between Legrand (www.legrand.us) and Fiber Mountain Inc. (www.fibermountain.com) was announced in December 2016, when representatives of the two companies jointly presented at the Gartner Data Center, Infrastructure and Operations Management Conference. The circumstances of the announcement were not a coincidence, as the companies see the potential for significant penetration of the technology within data centers, and describe several ways that data centers can benefit from adopting it.

Fiber Mountain describes itself as The Glass Core Company and on its website explains, “Glass Core refers to an optical fabric that is able to connect racks to each other or to connect ports from servers, storage devices and routers ‘directly’ to each other … Consider a number of racks that are organized in a row. The Fiber Mountain Glass Core can provide connectivity between these racks and change the connectivity as required by the data center managers, all without a human being present on the data center equipment floor.” (See “For cabling, SDN can hit close to home,” August 2015 issue, for a more-detailed description of the Glass Core concept.)

Fiber Mountain said at the time of the partnership announcement in December that the agreement will allow it to expand into new markets for its Glass Core products and technologies. “We are excited to partner with Legrand’s data communications team to deliver on our mission to simplify network infrastructure,” said M.H. Raza, Fiber Mountain’s chief executive officer, at the time. “Our Glass Core technology is a virtual connectivity fabric that enables a dynamic software-managed layer one network, which when used in conjunction with switch and router networks, provide the highest level of network control.”

Rudy Montgelas, Legrand’s senior technologist, added, “We are excited to partner with such a forward-thinking and innovative company, and to be able to offer our customers a software-managed fiber-based solution coupled with Legrand’s extensive range of cabling and connectivity solutions.” Raza and Montgelas jointly presented to the conference assembly in December.

Driving down errors

The integration of Glass Core into Legrand’s physical-layer systems enables software-based management of this connectivity, which Legrand noted “delivers the ultimate in scalability, error-proofing, remote real-time visibility and monitoring, automated network re-configurability, remote network management combined with optimized power and cooling for switching equipment.”

Legrand’s director of connectivity product management, Yann Morvan, said the partnership between the two organizations supports Legrand’s five key principles of solution-provision in data centers: 1) delivering better performance, 2) saving time, 3) optimizing space, 4) providing a favorable customer experience, 5) delivering on the promise of sustainability. “When we looked at the Fiber Mountain solution and incorporating it into our portfolio, it allowed us to take those five elements of value to the next level,” he said.

Morvan cited the popular data center architectures - the three-tier switching architecture as well as the spine-and-leaf architecture - and pointed out that both scenarios come with operational challenges including large numbers of switches and cabinets to manage, power and cooling costs, and moves/adds/changes (MACs). MACs, he pointed out, are a particularly costly operating expense. “Moves, adds and changes are labor-intensive maintenance,” Morvan said. “A technician must be on-site to take care of them.” With Glass Core, the MAC process can be automated through software.

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Among the Fiber Mountain technology available through Legrand is this optical path exchange (OPX), which provides any-port-to-any-port connectivity in a form factor of 1 rack unit.

“Another characteristic that attracted us [to the Fiber Mountain partnership] was the elimination of human errors,” Morvan continued. “Having technicians making changes on-site opens up the network to human error.”

In addition to the automation of actual port reassignment, Fiber Mountain’s Raza emphasized the system’s ability to automate connectivity management. “Some large data centers have massive buildings, with four-inch conduit between them. Within the building, fibers are spliced and taken into separate rooms in batches of varying numbers. From there they split out to patch panels. In many cases these connections are administered through human-managed Excel spreadsheets. Often the result is an untraceable fiber infrastructure residing in unreliable databases.”

Legrand’s Montgelas added that through Fiber Mountain’s offering, “All connections are documented through software. The Orchestration System is sophisticated and powerful. We believe Fiber Mountain is the only provider that offers orchestration system software and the ability to reconfigure the optical layer, together.”

Morvan noted that in addition to providing the ability to obtain an audit trail, the software package delivers accurate topology drawings as well as the ability to provide labeling via software. “On the connectivity side, there’s a constant struggle to provide proper labeling, especially in high-density environments,” he said.

Large-scale deployment

The organizations believe the technology can be particularly beneficial to hyperscale and colocation data center facilities. “Colos are trying to drive easier setup, faster deployments, and reduce potential missteps,” said Legrand’s Yann. This system’s software-based management capabilities “can be implemented across the globe,” he noted.

Both pointed to Glass Core’s ability to monitor traffic and replicate ports as a significant asset, in hyperscale and colocation facilities as well as others. “Network monitoring is an area of value,” Yann said. “Typically monitoring is done with expensive cassettes. But that function is built in to the Fiber Mountain solution. If you want to do monitoring today, your only option is the tap cassette, which in addition to capex cost, also draws from your optical power budget. Setting up a network this way also requires additional power-consuming devices.”

Montgelas added that the monitoring capability is another value proposition for colocation data centers. “Tap monitoring allows a company to monitor bandwidth, and scale their services accordingly. It may choose to aggregate certain portions of the data center, in order to be monitored for certain purposes.”

Fiber Mountain’s Raza explained, “If you use tap modules, you put them in all your racks. When you tap in, the original connection was going to a switch in the data center. A tapped port has to go to a switch also. So that requires the installation of another switch. A network administrator ends up putting a lot of switch ports where the tap ports terminate. You essentially have a parallel network of tapped traffic.”

Within that context, Legrand sees this automated monitoring and port-replication capability as a benefit to users of the Fiber Mountain system. Among those users are some existing Legrand customers that will add the Fiber Mountain hardware and software to their networks. The implementation does not have to be a wholesale changeout either, both organizations point out. In a large data center environment, the Glass Core system can be implemented in one row of racks, and its benefits assessed.

Yann concluded the Glass Core system “provides an intelligent building block for the data center. It could shape the world of data center and network designs, and is going to be different from what people are accustomed to.”

The Glass Core offerings are available through Legrand’s sales and distribution channels.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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