Q&A: Connectivity for the Internet of Things

An industry veteran answers our questions about the implications of deploying data centers just about anywhere thanks to the Internet of Things.

An industry veteran answers our questions about the implications of deploying data centers just about anywhere thanks to the Internet of Things.

Opterna provides fiber-optic cabling infrastructure products used in data centers, passive optical networking, and other environments. The company’s vice president of marketing, Atikem Haile-Mariam, is a veteran of the cabling and networking industries. Prior to joining Opterna, Haile-Mariam held marketing, product-management, and business-development positions with companies including Corning, Finisar, and Intel. Recently we had the opportunity to catch up with Haile-Mariam. We posed several questions to him about the Internet of Things and, specifically, the practicalities of deploying cabling infrastructure in non-traditional spaces to support IoT.

Q: Today, communication and connectivity are required in places where networking equipment would never be housed in the past. Can you provide examples of some of these computing environments, and explain why connectivity is now required in these locations?

A: For about 25 years, migration of robust communication and connectivity to various computing environments had followed a slow but steady path that largely mirrored the growth of Ethernet standards and their applications. However, over the past five years there has been explosive growth, largely fueled by data centers and nascent IoT/smart cityapplications.

What is interesting—and admittedly debatable—is that this growth largely has been fueled by building fiber-based solutions that support copper or wireless endpoints.

Examples of this synergy of connectivity include the following.

  • The displacement of largely copper networks in data centers with fiber, which was necessary not only to accommodate higher speeds but also to save on energy consumption
  • The deployment of hardened fiber communication solutions for monitoring, drilling, and production in shale oil fields
  • Replacing copper connections in wireless towers with fiber solutions for CPRI (Common Public Radio Interface) now and nascent software-defined centralized tower architectures that will likely use “timed” Ethernet.

Going forward the largest new deployment of next-generation networks will combine the heavy use of fiber for 5G and smart-cityapplications.

These applications include autonomous vehicles/traffic monitoring and aging-in-place housing monitoring.

Q: In your experience deploying cabling infrastructure in what can be called “edge” computing environments, are there certain design and/or installation skills that can be particularly beneficial for a contractor working on such a project?

A: Going back to my earlier characterization of Ethernet, what made Ethernet “win” over other protocols such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) was the relative ease by which one could deploy plug-and-play architectures using simple components, like the RJ-45 connector, as well as autodetect/autonegotiation features.

Similar developments are only now beginning to happen in high-speed networking via features like software defined networks (SDN). On even a slower track is the need to make fiber networks plug and play versus so-called “craft-heavy” based deployments that involve processes like splicing.

Plug-and-play is still a new concept for many contractors who don’t happen to deal with the largest fiber-to-the-home deployments. For edge computing to be ubiquitous, these items—SDN and true plug-and-play deployment—will require widespread adoption.

Q: Your company, Opterna, provides fiber-optic connectivity and management products engineered for a number of environments, including data centers, enterprise networks, multiple dwelling units (MDUs), and central offices. Have you experienced, or do you anticipate, projects that require solutions from across multiple Opterna product lines?

A: Yes, we definitely see a need to adopt the plug-and-play solutions that are widespread in large MDUs and central offices, in data centers and select enterprise networks.

Q: What physical characteristics of optical-connectivity products or systems enable them to successfully support applications in the types of physical environments we’re talking about?

A: Relative immunity to electromagnetic interference (EMI) and relatively small cable size and weight are attributes commonly associated with optical-connectivity solutions. However, while not a physical attribute per se, often overlooked is the significant operating-expense (opex) savings achieved by deploying fiber networks thanks to their greater uptime and othercharacteristics.

Q: Does it look to you like the demand for connectivity in these types of environments will grow in the future? And if so, what are some indicators of that growth in demand?

A: There’s no question that the demand for robust connectivity in all types of environments is going to growsignificantly.

For example, the number of 5G towers is forecast to grow exponentially, and most of these towers will require fiber connectivity and backhaul. Large volumes of near-term fiber production is already being secured in anticipation of this demand. Another good example is the plan to expand rural fiber networks. Should this plan come to fruition, it will require more fiber and wireless connectivity due to relative lack of density.

However, the biggest demand by far likely will come from webscale data centers and nascent edge-computing environments, which likely will be located near key tower infrastructure.u

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor. If you know an individual who would like to address our audience in the form of a Q&A-style article like this one, please email the author at patrick@pennwell.com. We welcome expert contributions on any topic related to cabling systems, including trends and standards.

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