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Direct Attach Cable Solutions for Data Center Interconnection


As we know, direct attach cable assemblies are mainly used as media to support high transfer rates between servers, switches and storage devices in data centers. They use the same port as optical transceivers. With significant cost savings and power savings in short reach applications, direct attach cable assemblies are becoming more and more popular among data center operators. In this post, we will talk about direct attach cable solutions for data center interconnection.

Types of Direct Attach Cables

Direct attach cable assemblies are terminated with transceiver-style plugs, such as SFP+ (enhanced small form-factor pluggable), SFP28, QSFP+ (quad small form-factor pluggable), QSFP28, and CXP, etc. Using the same port as transceiver optics, direct attach cables can support Ethernet, Infiniband and Fibre Channel but with independent protocols. In general, direct attach cable assemblies are divided into three families—direct attach passive copper cable, direct attach active copper cable and active optical cable (AOC).

Passive Direct Attach Copper Cable

Passive direct attach copper cables are without active circuitry component. They can achieve interconnections up to 7m at 10 Gbps or 40 Gbps with low power. Direct attach passive copper cable assemblies, like HP J9281B SFP+ passive direct attach copper cable, offer high-speed connectivity between equipment. They are compatible with hubs, switches, routers, servers, and network interface cards (NICs) from leading electronics manufacturers like Cisco, Juniper, etc.


Active Direct Attach Copper Cable

Active copper cables are designed in the same cable type as the passive one, but they contain low power circuitry in the connector to boost the signal and are driven from the port without additional power requirements. The active version provides a low cost alternative to optical transceivers, and are generally used for end of row or middle of row data center architectures for interconnect distances of up to 15 meters.


Active Optical Cable

Active optical cable (AOC) incorporates active electrical and optical components. It can achieve longer distance than the copper assemblies. In general, active optical cable can reach more than 100m via multimode fiber. Compared to direct attach copper cable, AOC, like Cisco SFP-10G-AOC10M SFP+ AOC, weighs less and can support longer transmission distance. It is immune to electromagnetic energy since the optical fiber is dielectric (not able to conduct electric current). And it is an alternative to optical transceivers and it can eliminate the separable interface between transceiver module and optical cable. However, it costs more than copper cable.


In addition, with the fan-out technology, both direct attach copper cable and active optical cable can be designed as breakout direct attach cable assemblies, like 40G QSFP+ to 4x10G SFP+ AOC, which can better satisfy the demands on network migration.

Direct Attach Cables for Data Center Interconnection

Direct attach cable assemblies are ideal choices for short-reach direct connection applications. Generally, they are used in the EDA (Equipment Distribution Area) where cabinets and racks house end equipment (servers) and where horizontal cabling from the HDA (Horizontal Distribution Area) are terminated at patch panels, as shown in the following picture:


For interconnection in racks and between rows of racks, direct attach cable assemblies are used to connect server to switch, storage to switch or switch to switch. Depending on different interconnect applications and distance requirements, direct attach copper cables, passive or active, active optical cable, or breakout direct attach cable assemblies with various length options can be used.

As 10G network is widely deployed in today's data center, 10G SFP+ DACs are commonly used in interconnect applications below 15m, such as server to switch or storage to switch interconnection in the same rack. And now 25GbE is popular and 25G direct attach cable assemblies, such as SFP28 DACs, are already available in the market. For 40GbE, 40G QSFP+ DACs and AOCs are used. Of course, higher speed and more bandwidth are needed for spine switches. Thus, 100G DACs, like QSFP28 DACs are used in this case.


There are various direct attach cables, including direct attach copper cable assemblies and active optical cable assemblies. They can cover data rates of 10G, 25G, 40G, and 100G. You can choose SFP+ direct attach cables for your 10G networks, or QSFP+ direct attach cables for your 40G networks. And both copper and optical fiber options are available. You need to know more about them first and then make the right choice.


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