Working in the data center fiber optic cabling industry, I am often reminded of two things my father always told me:
These two sayings seem to spring to mind all the time. Case in point: Recently, CABLExpress was contacted by a large, enterprise-class data center to evaluate offshore fiber optic trunking product. These fiber trunks were procured in an effort by this data center to reduce costs.
The initial reason for their concern was that the trunks were emitting a significant odor. This ‘off-gassing’ of the product, if you will, produced a potent and unbearable smell.
It began as soon as the packaging was opened, and the product removed. This chemical off-gassing did not cease, disperse, or lessen over a reasonable amount of time, so the decision was made to deinstall a significant quantity of this product. The communication with the offshore vendor went dark thereafter, and no answers or compensation were provided.
Off-gassing is defined as the release of airborne particulates or chemicals, a/k/a volatile organic compounds (VOCs), from a manufactured product as it settles. This is certainly not the “new car smell” they were looking for in their data center. The off-gassing of VOCs was actually making it unbearable to step foot in the data center. Unacceptable, but as it turns out, it was a blessing in disguise.
The fiber optic trunks in question needed to be Optical Fiber Non-Conductivity Plenum (OFNP) rated, the highest level of fire rated cable, for this particular data center, no substitutions allowed. The OFNP rating signifies that the total cable construction and cable jacket has passed stringent fire testing standards and is permitted for installation into air plenum spaces or underfloor.
These rigid standards of installation are required by the NEC (National Electrical Code) fire safety requirements for plenum spaces. Cable manufactures are required to have their cables certified by independent agencies such as the UL, to ensure compliance of this OFNP specification.
Because of these rigid standards, fiber optic cabling in general should not have any detectable odor, as “plenum” is basically Teflon. Therefore, those off-gassing fiber optic trunks were unquestionably poor quality.
In another situation that hit closer to home, we researched a sample product sent to us only to notice a strong chemical order upon opening. Curious, we researched the UL code on the jacket, only to discover that the certification number printed on the cable next to the word “Plenum” was registered to a Riser certification. Needless to say, this fiber optic cable posed a serious risk to the data center due to the risk of fire potential and chemical inhalation.
All this boils down to vetting your lower-cost sources. Communication cable connectivity manufacturers must stand behind the product they sell.
In fact, on September 16, 2020, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled Category 6 Ethernet CMR Communications Cabling from a cable distributor because their cables do not meet the flammability requirements of the UL 1666 voluntary safety standard as represented, posing a serious fire hazard.
Stay aware and vigilant! And remember my father’s advice I talked about earlier. Even though cost reduction is sometimes necessary, if those savings “seem too good to be true,” they almost always are.
Legitimate, certified product required in our data centers will justify those slight cost increases. That is why these standards and certifications are written!
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