Fiber optic SFP+ modules are the heart of cloud computing. These “Small Form Pluggable” modules convert fiber optic signals into the digital bits and bytes that electronics understand. With 30-40 modules per rack, these devices move huge amounts of data in a very compact footprint. The modules are scalable, invulnerable to cross-talk, generate less heat and operate at longer distances than comparable copper wiring. But the 1.25mm LC-style end faces (there are always two, one to receive and one to transmit) are prone to contamination. For most enterprise data centers, this is a big problem.
“Data centers are a mass of spaghetti-like fiber optic cables,” says Brian Teague, Sticklers™ product manager. “So, the tiny SFP+ configuration is a brilliant, compact, rugged and cost-effective design. But there’s no way you’re going to get speeds of 10 gig or faster unless every end-face in the loop is spotlessly clean. It only takes one dirty connection to bring a network to its knees.”
While a typical SFP+ module costs about $250 each module has a hard life. New applications come and go, rack units are upgraded; new servers are installed. Data center fiber optic connections are mated, de-mated and re-mated dozens or hundreds of times in their lives. “All this movement produces debris from wear-and-tear on the plastic connectors and exposes the end-face to dust,” reports Mr. Teague.
One large OEM north of New York City was troubled by the performance of their SFP+ modules. To ensure the performance of their proprietary network, they had a policy of replacing SFP+ modules instead of cleaning them. While it was expensive, they judged, this policy ensured their expensive and crucial applications operated at peak performance.
The OEM was correct; proper cleaning can be a challenge. Insufficient cleaning will leave contamination on the end-face, degrading the signal. Overly exuberant cleaning can scratch and pit the lens surface. Ideally, cleaning would be fast and super-convenient. The OEM tested foam cleaning sticks but found they performed poorly, depositing foam debris on the end-face and generating static which could attract dust or even damage the electronics in the module.
The Sticklers fiber optic products changed that calculus. Using the Sticklers CleanStixx™ tools in conjunction with the Sticklers connector cleaning fluid their data center staff were able to successfully clean and re-use the SFP+ modules. The CleanStixx tools performed well removing particulate even on the periphery of the end-face, outside of the “contact zone.”
Each CleanStixx tool costs about 75¢, so with a per-module cleaning cost of less than 1/200th the value of the module the OEM produced savings approaching $1 million annually.