3 choices for data center media types: Copper, fiber or nothing at all?

May 9, 2018
By HENRY FRANC, Belden -- Most people think of their media choices as being primarily copper, fiber or wireless. I, however, want to challenge that thinking.

By HENRY FRANC, Belden -- Choices for data center media types: always a contentious topic, especially in purpose-built facilities like data centers. There are technical and business issues to consider, which are often complicated by things like personal preference and the herd mentality.

Most people think of their media choices as being primarily copper, fiber or wireless. I, however, want to challenge that thinking: At times, the right data center media type may be nothing at all. Given my role as a solutions specialist who assesses client needs to find the right technology options, as well as my standards and industry development participation, my position may seem strange – but hear me out.

How We Choose Media

From a technical perspective, we tend to choose a data center media type based on a few basic factors:

  • What is the media’s capability to transmit signals and, conversely, to be immune from other signals?
  • Is delivery of power over the cable required?
  • What about issues like portability or mobility?

These relatively straightforward factors tend to be the decision-making criteria from a technical perspective.

Factors that Impact Decisions

Are there other things that need to be considered? Of course! They vary greatly, however, based on your frame of reference: Are you the end-user, consultant, systems integrator or contractor?

  • Contractors: usability, size and availability
  • Systems integrators and consultants: product familiarity and current templates
  • End-users: recent history (through project experience or marketing exposure)

For everyone, a key consideration is always cost. This isn’t something that should be overlooked or shunned in favor of history or technology because we are all responsible to our shareholders and sponsors.

Depending on your point of view, when it comes to the newest data center media type, the shiny bauble may be the most attractive. For others, it can be the implied (or assumed) safety and comfort of what you know. In other cases, it can simply be a matter of what you have been exposed to. None of these reasons or objectives are good or bad, altruistic or nefarious … they’re just acknowledgment of the dynamic. The most important thing to remember is that there are no magic bullets or potions outside of Hollywood; good decisions are informed and subjective.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Remember, most user groups/clients have business needs and core goals that do not include telecommunications infrastructure, even in a mission-critical facility like the data center. Hospitals focus on clinical care. Universities need to attract and retain faculty and students. Airports have to move planes, people and baggage safely and efficiently. Even multi-tenant data center owners are focused on providing real estate, power and cooling for their varied user base.

All of these clients need robust technology strategies, which rely on having an incredibly strong telecommunications infrastructure lest that technology strategy be built on a foundation of quicksand. Yet, as groups, their individual requirements are vastly different; within each group, even, there are a number of subgroups that further variate the need. This is where herd mentality or tribal knowledge can be seemingly harmful or helpful, depending on how it’s used and interpreted.

Can we learn from our peers within, or even from colleagues in related industry subsectors? Absolutely! And it could easily help make our endeavors more successful. Will the same solution work for two similar organizations within an industry subgroup, or even multiple groups within the same organization? Not necessarily; in fact, it could work against the goals of the organization.

So what’s the next step in making the right media choice? Make sure to read next week’s blog – Data Center Infrastructure: The Importance of Accuracy – to find out! Subscribe so you don’t miss it!

Henry Franc

With an emphasis on data center design, planning and building, Henry Franc acts as a trusted advisor for large or complex projects across all verticals, assessing clients’ business needs and finding the best technology options to meet them. He was also elected by industry colleagues to serve as vice-chair of the TR42 Telecommunications Cabling Systems Engineering Committee.

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