Can you keep your copper?

There’s one rule in networking: demand for bandwidth never declines.

Yet with enterprise customers hungrier for faster bandwidth, network managers have to consider a variety of issues when it comes time to upgrade cabling infrastructure.

Everett, Wash.-based Fluke Networks Inc. helps end users with testing and monitoring of a client’s fibre and copper networks. Recently, Fluke wrote an article on one of the fastest networking standards yet: 10Gbps.

Approved in June 2006 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the 10Gbps standard runs over twisted-pair cabling apparatus known as 10GBASE-T.

One Fluke company representative said that the new standard, also known as Category 6A or augmented Category 6, is a higher performance system that that has great potential for the enterprise market – even with copper cabling in place.

“A lot of cabling installations today are good enough to support 10Gbps –you’d have to test it first, though. You don’t know until you test,” said Hugo Draye, marketing manager for certification tools at Fluke.

“We need faster bandwidth, less delay to the end user, and the data centre needs to shuffle data at a faster rate. The IEEE has always put it as a rule that we try to get the newer standard to run on the installed cabling,” he said. One analyst said that companies like Fluke are poised to take advantage of end users looking to figure out whether or not they will maintain copper cabling or adopt fibre cabling in their networking plans.

“Fluke Networks has a long history of being in this space. In terms of their presence in the enterprise market, they’re making a strong push, given testing hasn’t been a top initiative in the enterprise,” said Vanessa Alvarez, research associate at the Yankee Group.

“When enterprises think of testing, they think of application testing, not networking testing. Testing vendors have had to face this challenge,” she said.

Draye said that while the 10Gbps standard works with fibre cabling, the standard is deployable over already-installed copper cabling in most enterprise environments.

“The benefits of copper are the overall cost. The cost is not in the cabling,” he said.

Alvarez also said that copper’s relative cheapness in comparison to installing fibre is a big advantage to 10Gbps over copper.

“Copper has to be planted in the ground, so cost savings is the biggest advantage. The upgrade is costly upfront for fibre. Copper is still entrenched, so there’s no need to incur costs,” she said.

Jefferson City, Miss.-based Computer Cable Connections Ltd. uses Fluke Networks technology to assist in testing its networks. One company representative said Fluke has been excellent in supporting the company’s operations, especially regarding 10Gbps over copper.

“I have Fluke Networks testers specifically for 10Gbps Ethernet. Their technical support was excellent. Testing is not the easiest thing in the world to do, but it wasn’t hard. There’s a lot involved to doing it,” said Mark Schrimpf, chief executive officer of Computer Cable Connections. Schrimpf also said that going with 10Gbps over copper is the way to go, given cost issues and durability concerns of fibre installations.

Alvarez also said that while there has been no large scale movement towards 10Gbps among enterprise users yet, there will be, given growing bandwidth demands in the SMB space.

“Once the standard starts to get out there, there will be movement towards it,” she said

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