Tips on avoiding backhoes welcome too.
December 20, 2007 1:49 PM   Subscribe

How can I practice/learn fiber optic networking without breaking the bank?

I'm a sysadmin by day so I know my way around wiring and networking but it's all copper. I'd like to learn/practice working with fiber networks. Except I don't know where to start, don't have any of the equipment and have no working (fiber) network to tweak. On the other hand I won't have any users complaining about the network being down, which is nice. Budget is very much a concern. I'm leaning more towards Ethernet than FC or SONET, etc. but only because I suspect it will be cheaper. Advice/information on conduit pulls, radii, etc also appreciated. Shaggy dog cable-splicing war stories always welcome.
posted by Skorgu to Technology (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A question, since this is very much a part of my daily job, so I might have some good info for you : Are you talking about setting up the physical network itself -- splices, terminations, stuff like that?

Also, yeah, you definitely want to stick with Ethernet. We are switching everything over on our network from SONET to gigabit Ethernet, and the day that this is finished you will find no happier person on the planet than me.
posted by contessa at 2:20 PM on December 20, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I've read some of the guides online about fiber splicing and connectors but they all seem to blur together (and be selling the Latest Greatest Foo).
posted by Skorgu at 5:22 AM on December 21, 2007

Yeah... I don't see a difference in everyday life. Especially if you're going Ethernet. It's just another cable. You have Long Distance and Short Distance, Single Mode and Multi Mode, WDM gear, and half-a-dozen or so different types of terminating plugs. But networking wise, it's still just plugging something in on one end and the other end. Not much magic in optical.

If you can be more specific I too might have some info. (I have hundreds and hundreds of optical network junk over a large campus and across the city and across the country on research networks. But it's still mostly just really long cables.)
posted by zengargoyle at 7:40 AM on December 21, 2007

Response by poster: I guess what I'm going for is what should I buy to be able to grok the hardware side of things. I mean I've got a basic idea that I want some splicing gear, some fiber, some connectors and a switch or two or media converter to attach to it all, but after that I'm kind of at a loss.
posted by Skorgu at 11:32 AM on December 21, 2007

Best answer: (First -- I apologize for my long disappearance ... it has been a day of last minute shopping and post-shopping boozing)

Ok, one of the things you might have noticed, if you've looked around for fiber optic networking equipment at all, is the huge variety of connector types that are called for -- ST, SC, FC, LC, SC get the picture. What has always ultimately determined my connector decision for me is, (a) what is the best thing I can acquire that is necessary for my network to do what I want it to do and (b) what are my connection choices there? With SONET it was almost overwhelmingly ST but most of the ethernet equipment I'm changing to, it's LC by a mile. And basically all I'm doing on my FO network is connecting properly-terminated fiber pigtails into a piece of network equipment, such as a switch that has FO TX and RX ports. Not any huge difference from a regular switch except for a different in/out.

I have never done a FO splice or termination in my life but I hear it can be learned in a day, with the right materials. Granted -- if you want to try your hand at fusion splicing, that equipment can be pricey. Offhand I don't even know a baseline price for a half decent fusion splicer because quite frankly, I don't even want to go there. That's what contractors are for :) Once you make your splice, the connector goes on and then you should test the quality of your splice by measuring the signal attenuation with an OTDR (Optical Time Domain Reflectometer) -- again, not a cheap piece of equipment. I think the one in my office cost $15k new. This is basically the #1 item to test the integrity of your physical network, should bad shit happen.

As for backhoes --- that's what locate wire is for :) And I have had my share of backhoe incidents. If you ever plan on burying fiber optic cable of any decent length at all, the first thing you need to know is that no sooner will your beautiful unbroken fiber be in the ground than some joker will want to dig a new storm drain through it. When the fiber optic cable goes into a conduit of any length at all, so must a magnetic locate tape. Then when you get notification that said Joker wants to tear the shit out of your conduit, you go and mark where your conduits are and then if he tears it up, you can hope and pray he's got the deep pockets to pay for the repair. If you don't mark're outta luck. (Most states actually have extensive statutes about marking your utilities to avoid damage, including a notification service. It's no different for buried FO cable, if you were ever to put enough in the ground to make it worth your while to protect it.)

If that doesn't cover what you were hoping it would, please do respond in thread or mefi-mail me. I'll tell you everything that I can.
posted by contessa at 6:35 PM on December 21, 2007

Best answer: Oh echo what zengargoyle was saying, FO cable - when it's all said and done - is just cable. Nothing especially magical about it, except for perhaps theoretical bandwidth. Which is ultimately decided by whatever network stuff you have plugged into it at either end, anyway. Truth be told in my everyday application with FO, I'm pushing a tiny fraction of the data through the glass that could actually go through it. However, it's a public project, so the planning is for long-term and I'm glad of that.

Oh! Also, we use SM fiber. No complaints.

Just stop tearing up my fiber with your backhoes, you dumbtards.
posted by contessa at 6:49 PM on December 21, 2007

Response by poster: Awesome! I guess you'd only know your own situation, but do most fiber installs have contractors doing the actual pulling and splicing? I mean that's a given for large installs, but what about the smaller jobs with maybe one between-building pull, do they just contract it out? How careful do you have to be designing buildings to be able to pull fiber through/into them?
posted by Skorgu at 6:47 AM on December 22, 2007

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