Fiber Management for the Future —
Data centers are becoming more complex due to higher network speeds, spine leaf network architecture, and the use of parallel optics. This growing complexity can cause problems in managing network cabling infrastructure because the use of advanced technologies leads to a larger number of connections and connected devices. The recently published BICSI 009-2019 standard for Data Center Operations and Maintenance listed automated infrastructure management (AIM) systems as a recommended management tool for data center cabling infrastructure to help address these challenges.
AIM systems can capture the details of optical fiber cabling characteristics (type, capacity, polarity, etc.), along with automated tracking and documentation of connectivity changes, and can present this information at a central console. Now, AIM developers can also integrate augmented reality (AR) technology into these systems. This can improve the efficiency of conducting maintenance and troubleshooting tasks, and add the ability to provide contextual information, either in the form of overlaid instructional images or an interactive interface, at the location where the work is done.
AR in the Real World
AR is already being used to provide on-the-spot information or supplement or replace traditional manuals and training techniques in many industries.
• Porsche began testing AR in the factory in 2016. Their internal AR initiative uses highly sophisticated lasers to scan finished parts, including full vehicles, and compare them against specifications stored in the cloud. Porsche’s QA technicians, positioned on the production floor, then use tablets to capture images of any questionable parts or obvious defects. The tablets use digital, AR-generated overlays to verify the technician’s work and to help determine which parts pass inspection and which ones need more work.
• At a GE plant, workers use AR to inspect gas turbine nozzles. The process requires more than 100 precise measurements and using AR has reduced the time it takes it by 88%.
• At an Airbus factory, workers wear smart glasses to precisely position cabin seats and furnishings on commercial jets — resulting in a zero error rate and a 500% improvement in productivity.
• According to a survey, “Atheer 2019 Enterprise AR Readiness Survey”, conducted by AR company, Atheer, in September 2018, 53% of respondents from companies with at least 1,000 employees said: “…they were testing or implementing AR with limited and/or local scope, while a further 13% were at the stage of having enterprise-wide AR solutions under deployment/in operation.” In the same survey, 70% of respondents said they expected AR adoption in their organizations within the next 3 years.
Now, let’s explore how AR and AIM systems may work together in the future to achieve similar results in the data center.
According to TIA standard ISO/IEC 18598, an AIM solution is an “integrated hardware and software system that automatically detects the insertion or removal of cords, documents the cabling infrastructure including connected equipment enabling management of the infrastructure and data exchange with other systems.” AIM products like CommScope’s imVision® give IT managers the ability to monitor and assess every aspect of their network infrastructure — from tracking down a stranded switch port to troubleshooting a connectivity issue — in a fraction of the time it would take to do it manually. Located in a data center, AIM solutions can remotely show where ports are located and how and where they are connected.
IT professionals must handle network topology changes, scaling, outages, security, and other issues, all while trying to maintain or reduce operational costs and improving efficiency and performance. AIM systems address these challenges by reporting the state of the network along with any changes made over time. These systems “know” exactly what cables are live in the network, what speeds they support, which ports they connect, and where they are located.
In addition, AIM systems are unique in their ability to document and monitor one-to-many connectivity, which is critical with the advent of multi-fiber array connectors that are becoming a common practice in supporting 40G, 100G, and 400G, network speeds.
AIM systems also ensure proper fiber polarity rules, eliminating time-consuming troubleshooting tasks of polarity issues.
AR Will Soon Add Value
AR is a valuable addition to AIM systems because there is a gap between the wealth of digital information available to us and the physical world where we apply that information. In a data center, the AIM system knows how network equipment is connected, where network equipment is located, which connections are carrying live data, available rack space, and port capacity, as well as availability of ports with specific network services.
However, transferring that information to a tech tasked with implementing connectivity changes involves using either a computer or a mobile device to associate information on a screen with real equipment in the data center. This process is not ideal since it could easily lead to errors.
AR addresses this issue by providing contextual data, images, and even video, at exactly the place where the technician needs it. For example, by pointing an AR-enabled AIM device at a switch port, the tech can display connectivity information for that port, including connected end points. Then, by pointing at a switch, the tech can display relevant switch operational data, like the number of ports in use, maintenance records, and more.
There are quite a few practical use cases for combining AIM systems with AR to increase data center operational efficiencies, reduce the number of errors, and improve documentation quality.
AIM With AR Use Cases
Consider the possible options for telecom service providers to employ AIM and AR across the network. Just a few options to explore include:
• Indoor navigation to locate network equipment in the data center.
• Virtual circuit tracing, including tracking fiber cables through the conveyance system.
• Identifying equipment with alarms, displaying alarm details, and providing instructions for alarm resolution.
• Automated asset auditing to detect differences between installed equipment and documented equipment using AR devices, and automated documentation updates to reconcile the differences.
• Remote assistance to engage experts to assist with troubleshooting uncommon problems.
In most studies, enterprise customers don’t believe that the hardware and software are yet ready for AR. AR devices can be heavy, battery life is too short in many cases, and image recognition isn’t accurate enough yet. For example, in a data center, an AR device needs depth perception capabilities to distinguish one cable from another — which points to 3D imaging technology that hasn’t quite yet arrived.
Large players like Apple, Facebook, and Google, are accelerating efforts to develop AR engines and integrate AR capabilities into their hardware. And in March 2019, The Khronos Group announced the ratification and public release of the OpenXR 0.90 provisional specification for royalty-free standards related to AR and VR devices, collectively known as XR.
This means software makers will know how to make software that runs quickly and efficiently on various kinds of VR and AR hardware. AIM vendors are preparing for the future by extending their software’s application programming interfaces (APIs) so they can interact with AR systems, and vendors’ R&D departments are keeping up with the state-of-the-art so they can prepare their AIM systems to deliver the right information.
AR significantly increases the value of AIM data by putting it out in the network, where, and when, the technician needs it. AIM manufacturers are already incorporating AR into their products, and we can expect increasingly sophisticated systems in the future.
AR technology is changing rapidly, and it is just a matter of time before it is mainstream. For data center and network operators to be ready to take advantage of AR tools, they need to collect detailed data and information about the physical network and cabling locations. Investing in documentation and an AIM system now will pay off when the AR future arrives.
This article is co-authored by Michael German and LeaAnn Carl.
Michael German is the Global Technical Director with CommScope. During his 30-plus year career with AT&T Bell Labs, Lucent, Avaya, and CommScope, Michael was involved in the development of a broad range of products from fiber optic transmitters and repeaters to structured cabling systems. Michael’s contributions include the development of CommScope’s imVision, an AIM System. His innovative work produced more than 50 patents. He holds a Master of Mechanical Engineering degree from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University Tandon School of Engineering. For more information, please visit https://www.commscope.com/.
LeaAnn Carl is the product line manager responsible for CommScope’s Automated Infrastructure Management (AIM) solution. Since joining CommScope in 2010, she worked on both copper and fiber products before assuming responsibility for AIM. LeaAnn has more than 15 years of experience in software product development and integration. Prior to joining CommScope, she spent 9 years at Hewlett Packard in the Business Critical Systems division, and held IT management positions at other Fortune 500 companies. She has a B.S. in finance from Texas A&M University. For more information, please visit https://www.commscope.com/.