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I'm a computer science student and was able to convince a CDN who has a NOC locally to give me a tour of their facility this last Monday. I thought it was great and might consider network engineering in the future. But I think I'd rather be programming the utilities that run and operate these networks.

Either way, I would love to play with some fiber optics networking. Create an in-house network between machines on different platforms and program them to do stupid things. I'm in a Networking Research lab this summer, but am an undergrad and have a lot to learn about networking. I know equipment is expensive, so that's my problem. I know Cat6 offers similar speeds, but I wanna play with fiber as I believe that's where our future is. Or.. am I wrong?

The University has a public auction on Tuesday and I'll see if I can find anything there. My highest hopes are to at least find some old 10/100MB switches, routers, servers.

Thanks in advance!

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Often it's found buried. People with backhoes find fiber stuff all the time. Grab a shovel and some cutters and blades (a nice sword works well), look for a little sign and start diggin'! It's like searching for buried treasure. Just don't stick around once you get some into your bag. Some people get touchy about that. –  Bart Silverstrim Sep 22 '10 at 16:52
@BartSilverstrim Are you trollin'? –  hydroparadise Jun 19 '12 at 13:48
No, unless the term "trolling" has a new pop-culture-esque redefinition. Digging for fiber is a lot like the more popular form of turning in copper scrap from buildings using a toolkit consisting of pipe cutters, flashlights and dark clothing. –  Bart Silverstrim Jun 19 '12 at 14:00
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'm with gravyface on this one: The particular media you're playing with isn't as important as your understanding of what's going on.

I appreciate that you want to to get your hands dirty plugging and unplugging cables, watching lights, etc. You need to learn about networking starting at layer-1 and working your way up. Working with abstract concepts that you can't "see", like VLANs, dynamic routing protocols, etc, don't relate to the specifc type of media (copper versus fiber), and gear with fiber ports will almost always be more expensive than gear with copper ports.

You might find that there are some people in your school who already have equipment and would be willing to share with you or work together with you, and some of that gear might have fiber connectivity. Prepare to be underwhelmed by fiber when you actually get to work with it-- it acts like copper insofar as you plug it in and it works. (Now, like, wave-division multiplexing gear and stuff like that is a whole different animal, but you're probably not of the budget to buy that kind of gear for the home lab anyway...)

Some activities need no equipment at all. You should be able to verbally describe the basic operation of an Ethernet bridge, an IP router, a dynamic routing protocol, etc. They're all based on very simplistic logic, but understanding that logic allows you to troubleshoot in situations where other, non-understanding, technicians fall flat.

Don't get hung up as much on equipment, lest you end up being one of those people who knows a single vendor's configuration interface, doesn't understand protocols at an operational level, and ends up being useless when you fall outside your "comfort zone" and training.

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Thank you for your thought answer and advice. I appreciated it. –  Kevin Jul 16 '09 at 15:13
Good luck in your endeavours, and good hunting on the used equipment front. –  Evan Anderson Jul 16 '09 at 15:28
The first networking lesson I had, we observed raw bits on an ethernet network with a scope. And reassembling the first two frames we seen on the wire. I liked the approach. –  petrus Nov 23 '10 at 23:13
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Take a good look at the OSI model and find out where you want live and play first, but you'll learn alot more about networking by compiling and configuring one of the BSDs from source on a couple old machines as a router/firewall for your home network, than you will messing around with fiber.

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Actually, I will do that. Thanks. I've been interested in kernel compiling recently and been browsing through some source and this is a great way to play around. –  Kevin Jul 16 '09 at 0:53
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Optical equipment is fun to play with for exclusivity (how many of your mates have a fibre network?).

When I was learning I bought heaps and heaps of stuff off eBay. An old IBM 100Mbit fibre switch, routers with fibre ports, etc.

It is important to understand the standard OSI model, however with fibre its also VERY important to understand wavelengths and the different types of connectors and cores. Does your switch need SC-SC connectors? If not, what does it need? Why is SC-SC used instead of others? What is Multi-Mode or Single-Mode?

It's better to learn that a fibre adapter labelled as "FC-AL" will not work with ethernet. When I learnt this mistake it cost me $20, instead of $2000 as it might have if I made that mistake on a live site.

So as far as playing with it goes, I say Go For It. Nothing beats hands on experience.

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I would try eBay or craigslist for used equipment. If your just learning then stuff that's old is likely to be affordable and have lots of online documentation.

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one of the other posters said look at the OSI model. That model is all about abstraction. The differences between ethernet and fiber will probably be abstracted over. That is, unless you are working at lowest layer, the physical layer. In that case you will also have to develop digital communication skills. Topics include: signal modulation (QAM, PSK, FSK), coding schemes, digital filtering, FFTs, etc. As you may see, when dealing with the physical layer, you are going to need a whole new skillset in addition to your programming skills.

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