Page Four

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2004-10-18 Print this article Print

When bandwidth prices fall so far and so quickly, formerly extravagant use of bandwidth may now become cost-effective. For example, said Gunnerson, business continuity is a higher priority in the post-9/11 environment, and plummeting bandwidth costs enable much more capable continuity arrangements involving database replication and remotely located failover facilities.

Seizing these advantages may require IT departments to make small but vital additions to their maintenance skills and hardware.

"The most important thing to learn is that fiber within an xWDM network must be pristinely clean," Gunnerson explained. "All cables must be cleaned thoroughly and examined under a 50x microscope. Dirty fibers cost you in reduced optical power levels. Even taking a fiber patch cable out of the patch bay and reinserting it can add dirt that reduces power levels."

Gunnerson was quick to reassure his colleagues, however, that more exotic skills and equipment will rarely be needed. "Knowing how to use an [OTDR] optical time domain reflectometer and an [OSA] optical spectrum analyzer would be a bonus," he said, "but these skills are required only at the initial stages of installing an xWDM solution." In addition, these skills are now part of network technician certification programs offered by many institutions, including vendors of that test equipment.

"The xWDM equipment installer should be expected to have and understand both OTDR and OSA gear," said Gunnerson. "Otherwise, xWDM networking equipment is easier to understand than most routers and switches."

The substantial long-run savings of dark-fiber leasing will be obvious and immediate, Gunnerson said, adding that a company can expect to pay a premium if it hires someone else to manage things. "We found that managed dark-fiber solutions typically cost 300 to 400 percent more than our identified costs," he said, adding that "after understanding those costs, we were encouraged to roll our own xWDM networks."

Making or breaking those economics, he continued, will depend on understanding the keys to ease of management and continued competitive cost reduction.

"Two items we required were remote management capability and exposing the optical receive power through the management interface," he said. "Without intelligence monitoring the receive power levels, youd need to buy a spectrum analyzer and send people out on a regular basis to check the health of the optical network. We also liked products that used the small-form-factor pluggable lasers, as they open up the opportunity to use multiple suppliers."

Gunnerson compared the cost of owning a fiber plant to the cost of laying a railroad line. "Its a long-range fixed cost," he said. "Once the rails are laid, any number of devices can ride the rails. Once the fiber loop is created, almost any kind of optical device can light the fiber."

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

Check out eWEEK.coms Infrastructure Center at for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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