Network equippers such as the Cisco Company are designed to bind their customers and move them to purchase only Cisco distributed hardware. In this case, the buyer is urged that only official Cisco components will work. In fact, some hardware (such as the Cisco Catalyst series) refuses to work with optical Transceivers, Direct Attach Cables or Active Optical Cables from third-party vendors without entering previously undocumented commands.
However, the possibility exists. For this reason, worldwide pluggable compatible products are deployed in Cisco hardware – the price saving compared to original products is enormous.
Especially large network operators with numerous ports can increase the scalability and significantly reduce costs by using Cisco compatible optical Transceivers, Direct Attach cables or Active Optical Cables.
For the user, the most important factor is the functionality of the products without any restrictions and, of course, a favorable price. As with all electronic components, different Cisco compatible optical Transceivers, Direct Attach Cables und Active Optical Cables also show significant differences concerning the installed components and the software programming. With the meanwhile large number of suppliers and differing prices on the market it is sometimes difficult to keep the overview. So what do you have to pay attention to?
In addition to compliance with generally applicable industrial standards, the required products must also be conform to the respective MSA (Multi Source Agreement) standards in order to ensure interoperability with the available fiber optic ports of the used hardware. In addition, the dimensions for an exact fit of the pluggable components are standardized in the MSA.
Optical Transceivers (such as QSFP28, QSFP, SFP28, SFP+, XFP, etc.), should also be equipped with high-precision lasers that have a long lifetime and do not become “blind” after a short period of use in the network. Well-known brand manufacturers of quality lasers are Avago, Lumentum or Oclaro.
Another point is the use of ICs on printed circuit boards (PCBs). Here, there are also brand components of American companies such as Maxim Integrated, Netlogic, Mindpseed or Analog Devices. Manufacturers who rely on B-ware save a few more points, the follow-up costs due to maintenance work or even network losses because of the modules quickly exceed these small additional savings. The best compatible transceivers in the market reach lifetimes of up to 10 years by the use of brand lasers and ICs and are thereby qualitatively on the same level as the original Transceivers from Cisco.
Active Optical Cables
In the case of Active Optical Cables in addition to the transceiver connector (QSFP28, QSFP, etc.) the used fiber is also a decisive factor in the price formation of the product. On the one hand, different fiber categories can be selected (OM2, OM3, OM4). Depending on the bandwidth and link length you have to make right choice for your own requirements. Brand manufacturers such as Corning, Fujikura and YoFC offer high-quality fibers for interference-free transmissions.
Direct Attach Cables
Direct Attach Cables (for example with QSFP28, QSFP or SFP+ connection) are also available on the market in various qualities. High-quality components are components of well-known cable manufacturers such as Belden, TE Connectivity and Amphenol, which can be found in different wire diameters. In order to avoid CRC errors and ensure a consistently good connection in its network, the used cable must harmonize with the used hardware. Some switches, for example, require active cables with signal amplification, while others can be used with cheaper passive versions that only conduct the signals 1:1.
Compatibility of OEM products
In order for the products to work in the Cisco used hardware, they must be programmed accordingly in order to communicate with the hardware. As Cisco is the world’s largest manufacturer of network products, it has a very broad portfolio, and many different systems have emerged over time. For each individual system, the transceiver or cable used must be adapted accordingly to provide 100% functionality. Of course, there are many interoperabilities among the Cisco systems, which means that compatible products can also be used in different Cisco hardware without additional customization. Here it is important to have a manufacturer with the appropriate know-how, who can handle the compatibility mechanisms and offer long warranty periods.