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Black Box Explains... Using fiber optics for KVM extension

If you‘re sending KVM signals between buildings for an extended distance, in areas supplied by different power sources, in an electrically noisy environment, or where data security is a big concern, you need to use a fiber optic-based KVM extender.

Optical fiber is an ideal transmission medium not only for backbone and horizontal connection, but also for workstation-to-backracked CPU or server links. It works very well in applications where you need to transfer large, bandwidth-consuming data files over long distances, and where you require immunity from electrical interference or data theft.

The choice for extraordinary reach.
Fiber doesn’t have the 100-meter (328-ft.) distance limitation that UTP copper without a booster does. Fiber distances can range from 300 meters (984.2 ft.) to 70 kilometers (24.8 mi.), depending on the cable, wavelength, and network. With fiber-based KVM extenders, the transmitter converts conventional data signals into a modulated light beam, then transports the beam via the fiber to a receiver, which converts the light back into electrical signals.

Many newer fiber-based KVM extenders support both analog and digital transmission. Often, they work by digitizing video output from a local CPU, then sending it across fiber link to a remote unit, which converts it back to the original analog signal. In many cases, one fiber of the fiber pair transmits monitor video serially and the second fiber sends remote mouse and keyboard information back to the local CPU.

The choice for ensuring signal integrity.
Because fiber is made of glass, which is an insulator, no electric current can flow through. It’s immune to electromagnetic interference and radio-frequency interference (EMI/RFI), crosstalk, impedance problems, and more. This is why fiber-based KVM extenders are beneficial to users in process control, engineering, utility, and factory automation applications. The users need to keep critical information safe and secure off the factory floor but be able to access that data from workstations and control consoles within the harsh environments. Plus, fiber is also less susceptible to temperature fluctuations than copper is, and it can be submerged ? in water.

The choice for greater signal fidelity.
Fiber-based KVM extenders can carry more information with greater fidelity than copper-based ones can. For this reason, they’re ideal for high-data-rate systems in which multimedia workstations are used.

Newer KVM extenders enable you to send both DVI and keyboard and mouse signals over the same fiber cable, transmitting video digitally for zero signal loss. This way, you can get HD-quality resolution even at very long distances from the source. Users in university or government R&D, broadcasting, healthcare—basically anyone who depends on detailed image rendering—can benefit from this technology.

The choice for data security.
Plus, your data is safe when using fiber to connect a workstation with a CPU or server under lock and key. It doesn’t radiate signals and is extremely difficult to tap. If the cable is tapped, it’s very easy to monitor because the cable leaks light, causing the entire system to fail. If an attempt is made to break the physical security of your fiber system, you’ll know it.

Many IT managers in military, government, finance, and healthcare choose fiber-based KVM extenders for this very reason. Plus corporations, aware of rising data privacy concerns over customer billing information and the need to protect intellectual property, use this type of extension technology in their offices, too.

Considerations for fiber-based KVM extension.
Before selecting a fiber-based KVM extender, it’s important to know the limitations of your system. You need to know where couplers, links, interconnect equipment, and other devices are going to be placed. If it’s a longer run, you have to determine whether multimode or single-mode fiber cable is needed.

The most important consideration in planning cabling for fiber-based KVM extension is the power budget specification of device connection. The receiver at the remote end has to receive the light signal at a certain level. This value, called the loss budget, tells you the amount of loss in decibels (dB) that can be present in the link between the two devices before the units fail to perform properly.

Specifically, this value takes the fiber type (multimode or single-mode) and wavelength you intend to use—and the amount of expected in-line attenuation—into consideration. This is the decrease of signal strength as it travels through the fiber cable. In the budget loss calculation, you also have to account for splices, patch panels, and connectors, where additional dBs may lost in the entire end-to-end fiber extension. If the measured loss is less than the number calculated by your loss budget, your installation is good.

Testers are available to determine if the fiber cabling supports your intended application. You can measure how much light is going to the other end of the cable. Generally, these testers give you the results in dB lost, which you then compare to the loss budget to determine your link loss margin.

Also, in some instances, particularly when using single-mode fiber to drive the signal farther, the signal may be too strong between connected devices. This causes the light signal to reflect back down the fiber cable, which can corrupt data, result in a faulty transmission, and even damage equipment. To prevent this, use fiber attenuators. They’re used with ?single-mode fiber optic devices and cable to filter the strength of the fiber optic signal from the transmitter’s LED output so it doesn’t overwhelm the receiver. Depending on the type of attenuator attached to the devices at each end of the link, you can diminish the strength of the light signal a variable amount by a certain number of decibels.

Need help calculating your budget loss? Call our FREE Tech Support. If necessary, they can even recommend a fusion splicing fiber kit, a fiber tester, or a signal attenuator for your specific requirements.