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Data Center

Understanding Multisource Agreements in the Data Center

Understanding Multisource Agreements in the Data Center

1 June 2018 | Reading Time: 2 minutes


Why a Multisource Agreement (MSA)? 

Data centers are complex environments; they contain a wide range of equipment and technology manufactured by many different companies which must be properly integrated and interchangeable to ensure correct operation and maximum efficiency. Fiber is the preferred choice for data centers as it enables higher speeds; however, to ensure the data center operates smoothly, optical transceivers must be interoperable. Indeed, it’s crucial to be able to perform replacements and upgrades quickly and easily, without needing to replace or alter network equipment.

This is why multisource agreements (MSAs) are important and beneficial to data center efficiency; an MSA is an agreement among manufacturers to make equipment consistent and interchangeable by defining a common physical form for devices and components. To ensure consistent data center connectivity, there are MSAs that cover both the specification and implementation of optical transceivers made by various manufacturers.

MSAs are important to futureproof the data center, as exponential growth of data, voice and video creates that requirement for higher speeds in and across data centers. The relationship between demand and MSAs is mutually inclusive – growing need for bandwidth has driven the standards bodies to develop higher application speeds, thus requiring new MSAs.

Multisource Agreement Examples: Today and Tomorrow

There are currently multiple MSAs that reflect the wide array of applications we see in the data center; MSAs cover everything from form factor, application (standard, prestandard or proprietary) maximum power and consumption, fiber connector type, standard count, wavelength and cable reach. The optical transceiver market is dynamic, with too many MSAs to list in this blog post. However, some examples of tomorrow’s possible interfaces include:

  • On Board Optics (OBO) or Consortium for On-Board Optics (COBO): Eliminates the E/O function traditionally performed by transceivers, allowing for increased bandwidth density at the faceplate. Data applications to be supported by OBO are yet to be defined but the technology is mainly targeted at 400Gb/s and 800Gb/s + data rates.
  • QSFP-DD – “Qual Small Factor Pluggable – Double Density.” The smallest 400 Gb/s module will provide backwards compatibility to 40GbE and 100GbE QSFP modules. This is designed to support Ethernet, FibreChannel or Infinband protocols.
  • Octal Small Factor Pluggable (OSFP) which targets data rates of 400 Gb/s – this is not backwards compatible to existing modules.
  • CFP8 – “C Form Factor Pluggable.” This is primarily aimed at supporting 4000 Gb/s but also claims to offer a path to supporting 800Gb/s in the future.

Implications of MSAs on Fiber Infrastructure Cabling Design

Higher speeds and increased densities have been the priority for the development of new MSAs due to new applications standards that specify higher line rates. We can expect more ports and higher density communication hardware as technology advances, enabling the transceiver to make use of lower power and smaller packaging – the larger sized MSAs are designed to accommodate higher power transceivers, while reduced power transceivers can make use of smaller MSAs.

Each of the data center cabling standards (TIA 942, ISO/IEC 11801-5 and CENELEC 50173-5) have standardized on two optical connectors for use in the data center: the LC for single or duplex applications and the MPO for applications requiring more than two fibers. This means that the MSAs relevant to data center environment can make use of the LC and MPO connectors. The standardisation of connectors should continue to help simplify cabling as data center providers prioritise agile, flexible connectivity that can accommodate ever-increasing speeds and higher densities.

You can learn more about data center technologies, architectures, challenges and solutions here.


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