I'm wanting to look into designing and implementing a fiber optic network. But I've never done anything with it before, I've never even seen any fiber network actually working either.

I've designed and implemented several small business ethernet networks, so I'm familiar with networking and the concepts, I just don't know where to begin learning about fiber.

I have been given a bag of tools that are for making ends on the cables, but I have no understanding of the details of what it takes to setup a network or what the spec ranges are and such.

  1. Do switches and routers exist for Fiber Optic network and do they serve the same functions?
  2. What are the basic categories of Fiber Optic network speed specifications?
  3. What system is suggested for streaming HD video for editing (my footage is 12-24mbps)?
  • A good starting point would be the FoA, google is also a very useful tool when it comes to first learning about fiber optic standards. – David Jul 23 '14 at 15:18
  • What do you mean by a "fiber network"? That in itself encompasses a wide variety of technologies from dark fiber to epon to dwdm to SONET, as well as combinations of the above. What are you going to send over fiber? – Mike Pennington Jul 23 '14 at 17:07
  • I'm wanting to setup a network for a video production studio. We are currently using firewire drives that we move from one computer to the next, and I am wanting to see what it would take to do a baseline Fiber Optics network that would allow us to transfer video files over the local network. – Circle B Jul 23 '14 at 17:19
  • I didn't realize that there were so many different types of fiber, I'm not wanting an entire manual on fiber optics, just a push in the right direction. – Circle B Jul 23 '14 at 17:23
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    Regarding question 3, you are starting from the wrong direction... first figure out what server and storage solutions you want to buy... then ask us what fiber technology (if any) is required. – Mike Pennington Jul 23 '14 at 18:49

Ethernet over fiber works the same as Ethernet over copper wire (for the most part), so the networking configuration will essentially be the same.

But you mention a bag of tools -- you should know that the tolerances for fiber connecters are way more strict than RJ45 connectors. Fiber ends need to be cut a certain way, cleaned, polished to remove microscopic flaws, etc. That is a skill that takes training and practice to do it right. And if you do it wrong, you will spend a lot of time troubleshooting.

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    Not to mention that while it was often common to self terminate cables in the past, as the speeds (and the associated tolerances) increased to 1G, 10G and beyond, most people buy cables and hire certified professional installers for any termination work (i.e. infrastructure fiber). – YLearn Jul 23 '14 at 19:02

First the bad news; as a fiber network engineer for the last 20 years and a technician for 10 before that, hearing these comments and answers is painful, and a bit frustrating.

This should be a clue that either a lot more research and investigation needs to be done, or hire someone to do it that knows what is going on. This is assuming the network you are talking about campus LAN or bigger. Anything smaller and the installation cost to do anything with fiber will always outweigh the overall benefit with regards to both performance or budget.

Someone mentioned DWDM? DWDM is strictly carrier class, long haul, single-mode fiber (and a very specific type of single-mode fiber at that), and more complicated than newcomers will conceive of, before thinking your gonna whip up this DWDM network. I highly doubt the network in which this person is asking advice about comes close the required performance of DWDM equipment (and correct fiber specs), I say that because if it was, he would never need to ask any of these questions and would rather be already very knowledgeable about fiber.

It is truly an instance where it is almost necessary that you know as much about installing the fiber, splicing it, terminating it, and testing it, as the vendor you will hire to do this work. The install, configuration, and turn up of the equipment isn't even practical to get involved with to deep, it takes years of experience installing and troubleshooting these systems to do it right, and right the first time. and if you really want to install some fiber or build your fiber network as you said, you can do this yourself with not a fraction of the fiber knowledge needed for wan, metro, long haul, and sub-oceanic systems. there really isn't a lot of trouble you can get into. Install a 6 or 12 strand single-mode fiber optic cable between every switch, hub and router in your network. direct terminate sc connectors or splice sc pigtails to each fiber strand in a mounted fiber panel and test. this work you will need to hire a vendor for. You design, purchase and install new switches or other equipment your replacing, and turn up the new service all yourself very, very, easily. 6-12 strand fiber cables are very easy and usually done very well (ie., the polish, the quality of test results, etc). not a lot of babysitting of fiber technicians to make absolutely sure they are installing the correct equipment at the this level is what I'm getting at.

It's not like your doing a live mid-sheath splice on a 120 strand fiber cable working off a detailed splice schematic put together well before your planned event network outage, counting on it being created and printed correctly. these are typical tasks on systems requiring anything like DWDM or larger networks. anyway best of luck and take my advice, my take on it here wont differ much between anyone that really knows what they're doing with fiber.

I've worked on every phase of just about the most technically advanced fiber networks that are in service today; as well as design from small campus LAN to extended long haul networks covering the united states and sub-oceanic systems. To some it up in one sentence I would say if it is a small network in physical size (single building or one level), short distances between switches and hubs, and satisfactory reports from end users with regards to speed, then don't worry about fiber; stick with copper and wireless and put the money somewhere else. like network documentation software, and maps where it will help tremendously during future localized network outages!!

If its that larger metro or campus network, then just hire someone to do the fiber. your only job here is to get that deeper knowledge of fiber and manage the vendors. Once again, its only in the case your network is reasonably small, along with the stubborn idea that you absolutely must have fiber for the this small network that I tell you just go ahead its safe to do it yourself.

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Switches and routers with fiber do exist and most of the time you would have an equipment with a SFP (or other form factor) that you would plug a fiber or Copper interface, depending on your need.

Regarding speed specification, I find that most of the speed is done by the interface itself and not the fiber. You have 1gbps copper or fiber, 10gbps fiber, and over. I never seen a SFP over 10gbps, it's usually a new standard called SFP+. At least for 1 and 10gbps, the fiber is the same.

Don't know how the fiber should be for a DWDM (where you take multiple wave lengths in the same fiber).

You also have different interfaces depending on the distance of the fiber, as I have seen: 0.3 km, 1km, 10km, 40km and 80km. Both sides must match, otherwise the shorter range side will get burn by the power received by the other end.

router with fiber and copper

Blue cables to your right are copper, orange fiber are multi mode, usually for cabling on a single location. Blue fiber is single mode, for connecting different locations.

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    Your statement that the "speed specification...is done by the interface and not the fiber" is not entirely accurate. Fiber comes in different ratings, for multi-mode this is OM1, OM2, OM3 and OM4 currently (see here for references). For example OM1 will let you run up to 10G, this is only for a distance of 33 meters and isn't recommended, additionally it isn't rated for anything above 10G. Also, the recommended color for single-mode fiber is yellow, not blue, while orange typically indicates OM1/2 multi-mode, aqua will be OM3/4. – YLearn Jul 24 '14 at 13:39
  • I asked people here at work and none was able to clarify the difference. Asked people from the central office today and they said that the fibers come in these colors per request, to comply with company internal regulations. – Pedro Brito Jul 24 '14 at 19:56
  • So, from what I see here and looking around elsewhere: fiber has many more options than copper... It seems that cat5 has pretty much become the standard for copper ehternet, is there a standard like that for fiber ethernet? – Circle B Jul 24 '14 at 22:02
  • @PedroBrito, clarify what difference? OM1/2/3/4 and OS1/2 are industry standards. While the color coding is a bit less "defined" (and largely applies to indoor fiber) it is also widely accepted in the industry in the US and a number of other countries. The Fiber Optic Association website has a nice table summarizing the color codes here. I did run out of room on my last comment, so I will add that blue can be used for polarization maintaining single-mode, which is a different beast than single-mode. – YLearn Jul 24 '14 at 22:09
  • @YLearn, clarify the difference between colors. I'm not in the US (I wish I was), and people here tend to get the hang of the practical side without learning how it really works. I asked what was the difference between orange and blue and they said "devices in the same location and connecting devices in different locations". I went to see the specification marked and noticed MM and SM. Then, after this question I took a look at this link and saw the real difference. Asked my coordinator and he said it was blue because my company asked the manufacturer so, to comply with internal regulations. – Pedro Brito Jul 24 '14 at 22:16

The first question you didn't ask, and should, is "does fiber optics offer me much or any benefit in my application" - and as someone who was in your shoes, but differently, 4 years ago, I think the answer is probably a resounding no. There's my "push in the right direction" for you.

You are talking about firewire drives (800 Mbps at most - often less in practice) and 24 Mpbs video streams, in a single building (at least I take "a video lab" as presumably a single building.) Gigabit (1000 Mbps) copper (Cat5e or higher - not Cat5) ethernet into a network switch will serve those needs without breaking a sweat, and without spending more money to get no practical benefit.

Fiber optics become interesting and useful when you need to interconnect buildings (my project), when your building is large and 100 meters is not a long enough cable, and for higher-speed in-building links (ie, if you moved from Firewire drives to Fiber Channel drive arrays at 2, 4, 8 or 16 Gbps.) They are also of benefit when there are space constraints on the cabling (a fiber cable with 12-24 fibers can be smaller than one cat5e cable, thus much smaller than a bundle of 6-12 such cables.)

If you are not willing to put in the effort to learn in some detail about the various fiber optic standards and practices, then you have lots of company, and there are plenty of folks willing to take quite a bit of your money and do it for you. They might even be happy to pretend that they are offering you something copper does not - after all, they won't be making money from copper, if you do that yourself. They might even actually be giving you something better, if they build you a 10 Gbps fiber network - but you would have a hard time noticing the difference if your use of it consists of moving 24 Mbps video streams around, or accessing files on 800 Mbps Firewire drives....

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    While there is some great discussion here, I do see two major flaws in this answer. First is that I don't think he ever mentions the size of the facility and how many people work there, it could be a few or hundreds. Second, video production doesn't usually move "streams" around, they move the files themselves, which can be gigabytes in size (especially if raw and not encoded in a compressed format), so speed can be a significant factor. – YLearn Aug 9 '14 at 17:11
  • @YLearn if the files are on slow drives (FW800 being considerably slower than 1Gbit) it simply does not matter if the network is 1 Gbit, 10, 40 or 100 Gbit, unless and until the drive access speed is addressed - as stated in the answer. – Ecnerwal Jul 6 '15 at 21:59
  • True, if you are only considering one such transfer. But that goes back to my point that we don't know the size of the facility or how many employees. What if there are often 2-3 transfers between different pairs of end points at the same time? A dozen? A hundred? – YLearn Jul 6 '15 at 22:25

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