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Optical Path Exchange Gives New Option for Network Visibility

January 07, 2016

Visibility is critical for network management, especially in the face of virtualization and the increased and varied demands placed on networks today.

Right now there are two primary methods for delivering network visibility: test access ports (TAPs) and switched port analyzers (SPANs). Fiber Mountain thinks it might have a third solution with its Optical Path Exchange (OPX), however.

TAP monitoring works by monitoring network traffic with a hardware device that sits on the network. It serves as a passive traffic monitor across all layers of the network, including the physical layer.

While TAPs don’t require switch ports or add to network traffic, they can be a significant networking cost and also usually must be upgraded with each network speed upgrade since they typically only work with a single speed. Virtualization could help with this potentially, but that’s still a ways off for many networks.

SPAN monitoring is a second approach commonly used. With SPAN monitoring, packets flow through a switch port and are duplicated and sent to the SPAN port. Both the RX and TX packet flow from the port are captured at the same time, though, requiring twice the bandwidth of the port for accurate analysis.

Further, SPAN port monitoring usually require a parallel network for carrying mirrored traffic to centrally located test and security systems. This ups the cost and complexity equation quite a bit.

As I mentioned, though, Fiber Mountain has another approach that some will find interesting. The company’s OPX approach uses a low-latency crosspoint architecture that can simultaneously route input port data to an arbitrary number of destinations, according to a recent blog post by Jonathan Reeves at Fiber Mountain, Network Monitoring - TAP, SPAN or Something Better?.

“The data replication occurs on a bit-by-bit basis with an industry leading low latency of approximately five nanoseconds and negligible skew across the original ports and replicated ports,” noted Reeves, and as a result each port provides an accurate representation of the original data source. Up to 160 10-Gbps destination ports can be used per OPX.

OPX is an optical-electrical-optical (OEO) switch that can route any input port to any output port independent of protocol, according to Reeve.

The Fiber Mountain solution is an interesting addition to the common network visibility options. We’ll see how the network infrastructure community takes to it.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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