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Interconnect and Cross Connect Basics for Data Centers

Basics of Interconnect and Cross Connect

Designing a data center is no easy task. Large numbers of very powerful devices need to be able to communicate freely and securely. There’s a lot to consider.

That said, you can break the total design down into smaller elements to make the task more manageable. One way to do that is to learn about connection techniques that can help equipment groups communicate effectively.

Two such techniques are interconnect and cross-connect network designs.

What Is an Interconnect?

An interconnect is a technique commonly used in data centers that allows active equipment to link up with other devices in the center. This is done by connecting active equipment through a patch panel. The patch panel is connected to a switch, and the switch allows for communication between devices.

In an interconnect, the patch panel used for this method is called a distribution panel, and outlets terminate within that distribution panel.

What Is a Cross Connect?

A cross-connect is another way to allow communication between active devices. A cross-connect still uses patch panels for this purpose, but the concept is different.

With a cross-connect, additional patch panels are used to mirror the ports of any connected equipment. This creates an entire patching zone, and all connections between active devices are run through these additional patch panels in the patching zone.

The switch ports that manage connections are replicated on the extra patch panels — called equipment patch panels. The main feature here is that the switch ports are mirrored on the equipment patch panels. That means that equipment changes can be done entirely through the patch panels without touching the switch itself.

Interconnect vs Cross Connect in Data Centers

Interconnects and cross connects both represent viable ways to maintain communication between active devices in a data center. Which one is better?

To answer that question, we have to consider a few different pros and cons. These connection types have varying strengths and weaknesses, and neither is clearly superior in every use case.

The three areas where you will see the largest competitive differences between interconnects and cross connects are costs, security, and maintenance.

Costs

There is a major difference in the cost of these two designs. An interconnect is much cheaper as a cross-connect requires twice as many patch panels to mirror every connection. On top of that, cross connects require more cables and much more rack space in the data center, further exacerbating equipment costs.

Labor costs will be discussed a little later, but in terms of raw equipment costs, cross connects are clearly more expensive.

Security

In terms of security, a cross-connect is much better. This is because the patching area creates an isolated part of the network, and this area typically holds mission-critical connections. With this layer of isolation, it makes many forms of incursions and attacks that much more difficult.

It’s also easier to add layers of security on either side of the patching zone, allowing for extremely robust network security.

While interconnects are not inherently insecure, they do not offer these additional security layers.

Labor

Lastly, there is the consideration of labor to manage and maintain these network designs. For the initial setup, a cross-connect requires more labor. Building the patching zone simply takes more time.

But, when it comes to maintaining these connections, the cross-connect requires significantly less labor. Inevitably, active equipment has to be updated or changed. When this is done in an interconnect, the switch has to be reconfigured in order to support changes to the overall network.

When equipment changes happen in a cross-connect, the switch ports are already mirrored, so simply connecting devices to their spots on the patch panels is sufficient. The switch never has to be updated. Essentially, cross connects remain plug-and-play indefinitely.

Additional Learning Center Resources