Separating fact from fiction with 9 costly data center myths
If you’re a data center operator, chances are you’ve been asked at least once in your career to “do more with less.” You’ve probably been asked repeatedly. And given our ever-increasing appetite for data, you’ll probably be asked again in the future.
These myths can have costly consequences
So where else can you reduce costs if it already feels like you’ve trimmed your resources to the bone? Take a hard look at these common misconceptions, all of which can end up costing your data center big money that would be better spent elsewhere.
Myth 1: I can save money by buying the cheapest optics
This may be true if you only care about your budget for the next three months. After that, when the equipment starts to break down and you have to pay someone to come in and swap out bad devices every couple weeks, you’ll find that the least expensive option actually costs more in the long run.

And that’s assuming the optics you buy are compatible with the other gear you have – which isn’t always a safe assumption. That brings me to the next misconception we see a lot.
Myth 2: Generic = brand compatible
Alas, no. While some third-party optics equipment is compatible with OEM boxes, that’s not universally true. Buying optics without verifying compatibility with the equipment you have in house could end up costing you a lot, both in replacement costs for the equipment and potential downtime when you plug the new modules in and discover that they don’t work.

Tip: if you’re considering non-OEM equipment, check with your vendor to verify the equipment’s compatibility with what’s already in your data center.
Myth 3: Using third-party transceivers will void my warranty
This is one of the more pervasive myths out there, maybe because it’s in the best interests of OEMs not to set the record straight.

In reality, it’s been illegal since 1975 for a seller to require that someone use only branded parts in order for a warranty to be valid, thanks to the Magnuson-Moss Act.

So if you’ve been wondering about non-OEM parts but reluctant to buy them for fear of voiding a warranty with an OEM, rest assured: you can save money by going OEM-equivalent and still enjoy the full coverage of your warranty.

Just be sure that whatever non-OEM equipment you choose is truly “brand-equivalent”.

(Note: while you can use non-OEM optics in OEM boxes, you can’t cross-pollinate various OEM parts – say, a Cisco box with Juniper optics. That’s because OEMs put special codes in their optics so that they can’t work with each other.)
Myth 4: All transceivers meet the power specs of all ports
I wish this one were true, but it’s not. And it’s not pretty when someone plugs a transceiver into the wrong port.

Here’s what you need to know: all slots are rated to dissipate a maximum amount of heat. Some transceiver modules, though, dissipate more than that. Plugging them into the wrong slot could bring the equipment down because it’s no longer operating within its specifications. In a worst-case scenario, it can even permanently damage the equipment. Obviously, that’s an even more expensive problem to have on your hands.

A responsible transceiver vendor won’t sell you modules that aren’t compatible with your switches and routers.
Myth 5: Going to dark fiber is too expensive
Given the current trajectory of data consumption (up), some data center operators may have considered whether dark fiber might be a reasonable alternative to an ISP – only to be discouraged by the cost.

While there’s no single rule of thumb for when dark fiber is the right choice, it’s most likely to make financial sense if any of the following are true:
  • Your bandwidth needs exceed 1Gbps and will continue to expand (or your business is growing such that your needs will soon exceed 1Gbps).
  • You live in an area where fiber-optic cabling is already laid (typically urban and suburban areas).
  • You want to expand a network to geographically separated buildings.
  • You want an extremely low-latency or a highly private network.
Even if dark fiber makes sense for the long term, it will likely require a substantial outlay of funds at the beginning, in part because of how lease agreements are structured and in part because you’ll have to purchase termination equipment.

But because dark fiber lets you scale up your use without increasing your expenses (unlike an ISP, which charges you by data usage), it may be more cost-effective in the long term.
Myth 6: Going to 100Gbps, I’ll have to use single-mode fiber
If 100 Gbps speeds aren’t already standard in your industry, they will be in the near future. To prepare your data center to handle these speeds, you’ll likely need to upgrade some of your equipment. But before you replace all your multi-mode fibers (MMF) with single-mode (an expensive project), know that there are ways to make MMF work with 100 Gbps speeds.

The key is to understand your data center’s needs and the capability of your current infrastructure. The diagram below outlines the expected distance over which each type of fiber can be functional, given the right equipment.
Myth 7: I can save money by going to the cloud
Many companies seek to cut data center costs by shifting resources to the cloud – only to be shocked when they see their first cloud bill. While the cloud can offer many benefits, it’s important to understand that it is not always less expensive.

Without a cloud strategy and cloud governance policies (as you’d have for any other resource your company uses), the cloud could end up costing more than you anticipated. So while using the cloud may be part of a larger plan to manage costs at a data center, shifting to the cloud in and of itself doesn’t guarantee savings.
Myth 8: I have to use OEM support for my OEM boxes
In fact, you don’t. There are several third-party support providers that offer excellent service for a fraction of what you’d pay an OEM. If you’re looking for ways to make your existing budget go further, exploring non-OEM support is an excellent option to consider, in particular for older or legacy equipment.
Myth 9: Maintenance contracts on network optics are better than onsite sparing
Not true. It’s far cheaper to do onsite sparing maintenance. What’s more, onsite sparing comes with less downtime because you won’t have to wait for parts to be ordered, shipped, and delivered before installation.
Final thoughts: Create breathing room in your budget
It can be frustrating to be asked to accomplish more with fewer resources. But in the case of data center management, it may be possible. No matter how knowledgeable you are, it’s difficult to maintain expertise on the latest developments in every field that affects your data center and its budget.

Knowing the truth behind common misconceptions is the first step toward making cost-saving changes without harming the performance of your data center.