Introduction to 10GbE/25GbE/40GbE/100GbE Fiber Optic Cabling

Technology is changing rapidly. Just when you got used to Gigabit Ethernet speeds being a fast & reliable system, someone unveiled 10GbE, 25GbE, 40GbE or even 100GbE systems a few years later. The newer and higher performing iterations are indeed the great breakthrough for the telecommunication industry, but also pose difficulty in choosing network migration path—10G to 40G to 100G, or to 25G to 50G to 100G. We have described 10G, 25G, 40G, and 100G Ethernet technology before, now in this blog, we’d like to introduce the four fiber optic cabling, and compare two 100G migration paths.

Cost-effective 10GbE Fiber Optic Cabling

10 Gigabit Ethernet technology defined by IEEE 802.3ae-2002 standard is matured nowadays. Just like the “old” Gigabit Ethernet, 10Gb network can be terminated with either copper or fiber cabling. 1000BASE-T standard usually uses the Cat5e cables as the transmission media, while 10GbE bandwidth requires high-grade copper cables like Cat6/Cat6a/Cat7 cables to support 10Gbps data rate. For instance, 10G SFP+ 10GBASE-T transceiver modules utilize Ethernet copper cables (Cat6a/Cat7) for a link length of 30m. SFP+ direct attach cables (DAC) and active optical cables (AOC) are also regarded as cost-effective solutions for 10G short-reach applications. Besides 10G copper cables, there are single-mode (OS2) and multimode fiber patch cables (OM3/OM4) applied to different 10GbE IEEE standards. For the detailed information about the 10G cabling options, please see the following table.

10G fiber optic cable

As to the 10G fiber optic transceivers, there are a series of optical form factors including the XENPAK, X2, XFP, SFP+. The former three 10GbE optical transceivers were released earlier than smaller 10G form factor—SFP+ module. However, owing to their larger footprint, they are not successful in the 10G hardware market. Furthermore, SFP+ optics, compliant with several IEEE standards (SR, LR, LRM, ER, ZR, and 10GBASE-T…) wins the heart of 10G end-users.

Single-lane Design Makes 25GbE Shine

When 25G Ethernet was developed to support a single-lane 25Gbps standard in 2014, it was treated as the “new” 10GbE technology but delivers 2.5 times more data. Compared to 40GbE that was based on 10GbE, 25GbE with one lane obviously improves the port density and cost requirement. 25GbE network can support both copper and fiber optic cables, seen in the below table. Similar to 10GbE networks, 25G Ethernet physical interface specification supports several 25Gbps capable form factors, including CFP/CFP2/CFP4, SFP28 (1×25 Gbps) and QSFP28 (4×25 Gbps), which is also used for 100GbE. SFP28 25GBASE-SR and 25GBASE-LR SFP28 are two popular 25GbE optical transceiver modules available on the market, the former supports up to 100m link length while the latter allows a maximum transmission distance of 10 km.

25gbe optical modules

The available optical switches of the market do not support direct 25GbE connections using an SFP28 direct attach copper (DAC) cable. It is recommended to use a breakout cable that allows four 25GbE ports to connect to a 100GbE QFSFP28 switch port. FS.COM SFP28 DAC cable lengths are limited to four meters (1m, 2m, 3m, 5m) for 25GbE. And if you prefer a longer length, the 25GbE active optic cable (AOC) solutions are good recommendations.

25G Optics SFP28 Type
Media/Reach
All 25G SFP28 Ports 25GBASE-SR 50µm MMF / 70m
25GBASE-LR 9µm SMF / 10km
25GBASE-AOC Pre-terminated in 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30m lengths
OM4 MMF MTP/MPO 150m
25G Copper SFP28 Type Media/Reach
All 25G SFP28 Ports 25GBASE-CR Twinax / ‘Direct Attach’ Pre-terminated in 1m, 2m, 3m, 5m lengths

 

Fast & Reliable 40GbE Fiber Optic Cabling

Like the 10GbE fiber optic cabling, there are several IEEE standards of 40GbE transceiver in the whole evolution. 40G QSFP+ optical transceivers are the most commonly used optics for 40G network. So how to choose fiber optic cables for 40G optical transceivers? The following table will help you out.

40G modules

Besides the QSFP+ fiber transceivers and fiber optic cables, 40G DAC cables available in QSFP+ DAC cables and AOC cables enable short-reach options. For 40G cabling, QSFP+ to QSFP+ (40G to 40G) and QSFP+ to 4SFP+ (40G to 10G) breakout cables satisfy customers for various fiber types and reach requirements.

100GbE Fiber Optic Cabling For Future Proofing

With the price of 100G optics cutting down in 2017, 100GbE network is no longer out of customers’ reach. Telecom giants like Cisco, Arista, HPE launches series of 100G optical switches to meet the market demand. And for other 100G components like 100G optical transceivers, fiber patch cables, racks & enclosures, etc, those are ubiquitous on the market.

100G optical transceivers including the CFP, CFP2, CFP4, CXP and the most popular 100G QSFP28 optics in IEEE standards provide a great selection to the overall users. For 100G inter-rack connections, QSFP28 to QSF28 Direct Attach Copper (DAC) Cables and Active Optical Cables (AOC) as well as the QSFP28 to SFP28 breakout cables are the cost-effective solutions.

Path 1: 10G to 40G to 100G

Many of the largest data centers have already moved to 40GbE, which are constructed out of 4 parallel SerDes 10Gb/s links between the Ethernet chip and the QSFP pluggable. The short-reach QSFP interfaces (QSFP+ SR4 modules) use 4 pairs of fiber between them, and the copper Direct Attach Cable (DAC) equivalent carry the same on several copper cables inside the big cable. Longer-reach QSFP interfaces (QSFP+ LR4 optics) put the 4 10Gb/t streams onto separate Wave Division Multiplexing (WDM) waves which can be carried over a single pair of fiber. This is part of the reason why QSFP optics are fairly expensive still, especially for longer distances.10GbE to 40GbE to 100GbESimilarly for the 100GbE interfaces that are available today, these are really constructed out of 10 parallel paths of 10Gb/t streams. 100G SR10 modules are the optical transceiver modules that support 10×10Gb/s modes. But neither the CXP SR10 modules or CFP 100G SR10 optics are not popular on the 100G hardware market owing to their larger form factors. Eventually, they need to utilize the smaller footprint 100G modules—QSFP28 transceiver, which is mentioned above as the optical transceivers that can be used in 25GbE and 100GbE.

Result: Although the migration path from 10G to 40G to 100G requires more ports and increases cost per bit, 40GbE between switches is expected to remain and will not be affected in the near future.

Path 2: 25G to 100G—The Move From 10 Lanes to 4

The old transition path of Ethernet has increased by 10X in speed like the 10G to 40G to 100G. However, 25 Gbps over a single lane for server makes 100G migration be 4×25Gb/s mode.100-gbe-block-diagramUsing four-lane variants like QSFP28 is more economical in several ways:

  • The single-lane design makes four 25 Gbps lanes transceivers less expensive than ten 10Gbps lanes because the transceiver is simpler and less costly to manufacture.
  • The power required to run SFP28 transceivers is much less than required for a typical 10-lane transceiver, it is the same case as the cooling costs.
  • For fiber connections, moving from 10GbE to 40GbE may require an upgrade to four times the number of fibers (MPO), but a 25GbE connection does not because it is the same as 10GbE (single TX and single RX, not four each for TX and RX).
  • Moving from 10GbE to 40GbE typically requires a forklift upgrade to thicker, more expensive cables, but a 25GbE direct attach copper connection does not.

Result: There are few switches and NIC cards that directly support 25GbE. But the curve for 25GbE won’t fade away, rapid development and pre-standard 25GbE products coming soon!

Conclusion

This article introduces 10G/40G/100G fiber optic cabling, and make a clear comparison between the two paths to 100GbE. Customers prefer 4×25Gbps for the reasons: Less parallel paths, fewer fibers, fewer optics, less everything. For those who want to upgrade from 40G to 100G, appreciate the reliable performance of 40G with the potential to run across 2 parallel 25Ghz rather than 4 required today.

Related Articles:
Deploy 100 Gigabit Ethernet Network With QSFP28
What Is Structured Cabling And Why Use It?

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