Copper vs. fiber in a network


Copper wiring has been used for information transmission for most of the last century, not for computers, but primarily for telephone lines that were strung all over the United States, many of which are still in use today. When early computer networks were introduced in the late 70's there were a variety of elaborate methods utilizing different kinds of copper wire to connect machines together. Ultimately, the industry standard became the now familiar twisted pairs of copper wires called Ethernet, which is the IEEE 802.3 standard used today. In its infancy, Ethernet was still the fastest way to pass information from one machine to another at 10 megabits/second. Without getting into a lot of history and technology, suffice it to say that in the year 2011, Ethernet has evolved in its capability of passing information allowing it to move 1's and 0's at 1 Gigabit/second or 1000 times faster that its first prototype. For most modern networks, local area networks, this is sufficient.


picture of dataThe use of fiber optics in networking started to emerge in the 1980's, solving one of the largest problems in working with copper wire and Ethernet: distance and signal degradation. Copper Ethernet has a maximum effective transmission length of approximately 100m., or roughly 320 feet. This posed serious problems for running networks through entire buildings without the assistance of elaborate devices that would boost the signal every hundred or so feet. Early DSL was notoriusly unreliable and difficult to gain access to for the same reason: the distance from you to the telco switch.

Let There Be Light!

Enter the optical fiber or "light pipe". An optical fiber is made out of very precisely made glass that is encased in a special coating that allows information to be transmitted and received from one end of the glass fiber to the other. Due to much lower attenuation (signal loss) and interference, optical fiber has large advantages over copper in long distance and high demand applications and networks. Since 1990, the telecommunications industry has laid a vast network of intercity and transoceanic fiber communication lines allowing for the Internet and other communication systems to proliferate in ways we never dreamed of even a decade ago.

In network applications, especially in Data Centers, fiber optic cable is used not only to bring redundant bundles of optical fiber to the data center from so called "Tier One" providers or carriers, but also used within the cabinet to speed up the process of moving data from one piece of equipment to another. For example, backing up data from a server to a SAN unit with fiber connectivity, takes a minuscule amount of time due to the transmission speed: copper=1000 mbps, fiber 4-8 gbps. Four to Eight times faster! This is the technology that is used by OOTBS for our customers and another example of how we use cutting edge technology to serve you.

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