OTDR Troubleshooting in the Data Center? ...Yes we can!

February 21, 2013 / General

The growing demand for higher bandwidth is affecting nearly every industry today, as organizations rely more on applications that support a variety of critical business processes. Whether it’s high-definition video, social media support, electronic medical records or other high-bandwidth applications, companies increasingly are facing a need to support higher capacity data transmission for their employees, customers and business partners. This trend toward greater capacity has in turn created an increased need for high bandwidth fiber optic cabling in the data center. And this market will continue to grow, according to industry research. For example, research firm IBISWorld has predicted that cable installation revenues will increase an average of 5% per year to $5.5 billion in the five years to 2016. Mobile backhaul and broadband applications will drive the growth, IBISWorld says. By installing high-capacity networks in the data center, companies can meet this demand. But networks today need to deliver low latency, scalability and reliable service in order to best serve the needs of organizations. None of this is possible without capable cabling.  That’s why effective fiber troubleshooting is vital to ensuring reliability and high performance in the datacenter. Here lies the rub.  In the past, the OTDR (Optical time-domain reflectometer) a preferred fiber troubleshooting tool was not useful in environments that we see today in datacenters. An OTDR is used to characterize an optical fiber by injecting a series of optical pulses into the fiber that’s being tested and measuring the time and amplitude of reflections that come back. OTDRs can be used for estimating the fiber length and overall attenuation, locate and analyze splice and mated-connector losses and reflectivity, and find faults such as breaks. The problem was that these troubleshooters were origninally designed for carrier networks and unable to see short links and highly reflective connections.  But the good news is that dramatic improvements have now made this powerful troubleshooting tool capable and efficient for the connection rich datacenter environment.  Companies can use OTDRs to improve the performance and reliability of their fiber cabling and help them with their troubleshooting efforts.  Products such as OptiFiber Pro OTDR from Fluke Networks is the best example of an enterprise datacenter capable OTDR. OptiFiber Pro was the first OTDR designed from the beginning to meet the challenges of enterprise fiber infrastructures and data center fiber networks. It features a smart phone interface, combines the latest “gesture-based” interface technology with a capacitive touchscreen to provide a more user-friendly testing instrument. The tool’s ultra-short dead zones even enable testing of fiber patchcords. And the setup has been made easy with "data center mode" an OTDR configuration designed to eliminate uncertainty and errors that can occur when testing data center fiber without the correct settings.  As the prevalence of server virtualization and multi-gigabit links between servers, networks and storage systems increases, cabling professionals will be called on to build and maintain more datacenters with fiber cabling.  Having the right tools like the OptiFiber Pro OTDR to support this business is critical.