Converters Make Fiber More Appetizing to AS/400

The age-old adage "out with the old, in with the new" has a nice ring to it, but this kind of thinking is hardly appropriate when applied to networking technology. In fact, the best way to manage a network these days seems to be finding a way to integrate technology, both new and old.

As fiber optic technology becomes more practical in the AS/400 world, media converters increasingly become an efficient way to incorporate this newer connectivity paradigm with more established technology like copper wiring.

Omnitron Systems Technology Inc. now offers a line of FlexPoint 100Fx/Tx media converters designed specifically to support MT-RJ and VF-45 small form-factor fiber connectors, making this technology more inviting to AS/400 shops.

"Traditionally, fiber optic connections used somewhat large and expensive connector types to connect between two points on fiber," says Arie Goldberg, president and CEO of Omnitron Systems (Irvine, Calif.). "The MT-RJ and VF-45 are small form-factor connectors, approximately the same size as a phone jack."

Whereas older connectors were more cumbersome and required more panel space, the small form-factor design gives the user the ability to put many of those connectors on a relatively small surface, while at the same time keeping the cost down dramatically, according to Goldberg. "This reduction in cost will drive a lot of fiber to desktop applications," he adds.

The small form-factor fiber connectors -- MT-RJ and VF-45 -- are designed to provide users with higher port density per device and lower per-port cost. Port density refers to the number of connectors that can fit into a given square inch of panel space. The FlexPoint product line allows Omnitron users to take advantage of the per-port economy and benefit from features such as full/half duplex operation, auto-negotiation and unshielded twisted pair (UTP) crossover switching, according to Goldberg.

For example, by providing 100Base Fast Ethernet connection between the variety of fiber options and UTP, the FlexPoint 100Fx/Tx enables network distances up to 28 km, as well as 200 Mbps full-duplex data bandwidth.

"The FlexPoint family supports all the local area networking needs, converting from one type of media to another," Goldberg says. "Our family of converters supports AS/400 and Token-Ring, in addition to ATM, Ethernet and Fast Ethernet -- basically a whole heterogeneous environment that allows people to convert from one thing to another."

Ithaca Industries, a Wilkesboro, N.C.-based private-label apparel manufacturer, has used Omnitron networking hardware for approximately the past six years. Ithaca currently uses several FlexPoint 10BaseT media converters primarily to extend its network from copper wiring to fiber optics, according to Jeff Coffey, technical services manager for Ithaca. Ithaca's network consists of eight AS/400s, a mainframe and a number of Novell and NT servers.

Ithaca's 10BaseT converters share certain similarities with FlexPoint 100Fx/Tx technology, specifically in their capability to manage media conversion from copper to fiber in an efficient, rack-mountable unit. "If you've ever seen a data rack, it can become a rat's nest real quick," Coffey says. "A lot of these products -- whether it's FlexPoint or some other data communications device -- aren't made rack-mountable." This, Coffey points out, can lead to overuse of pull-ties or makeshift racks and shelves. By being able to put four or five media converters in a rack designed specifically to hold them, "it takes only about two or three inches of space up on your entire rack, as opposed to if you had to buy a shelf that would take up six inches."

The media converters -- each slightly larger than a deck of cards -- can be mounted alone or in a 19-inch Omnitron chassis, which holds up to 14 FlexPoint converters. "The chassis is unique in that it has redundant power capabilities," Goldberg explains. "If you're deploying the device in a computer room for mission-critical applications, that's the way to go. Power redundancy allows the system to be very reliable if you lose the main power supply."

Cost savings for such a setup are expected to be most obvious in the use of fiber to connect between an IS department's main wiring closet and individual offices, according to Goldberg. "It's going to be much less expensive to connect the fiber to the wall jacks," he says.

The MT-RJ and VF-45 models are priced at $519 each. Pricing for Omnitron's Powered Chassis is $699, while the company's FlexRack 5 media converter mounting rack is priced at $95.