Imagine outfitting a new data center or expanding an existing one or, adding or moving equipment. What type of cabling is needed? How far between pieces of equipment? What’s the best way to connect it all? These are among the questions the TEK Center at Berk-Tek works to solve.

Berk-Tek is part of Nexans, a multi-national company that makes a variety of cables, including those for both wired and wireless networks. Says Mike Connaughton, Berk-Tek’s market segment manager for data centers, “If there’s an Ethernet connection, we’re going to make a cable that goes into it.” He adds that, in the IT world, the data center is most organizations’ biggest investment—their most important piece of infrastructure. If they’re going to be spending millions on it, they want it to do what they need done.

Nexans created a research and development center fifteen years ago, and it is now regarded globally as a center of excellence for materials research and standards development. The recently rebranded TEK Center, located at Berk-Tek’s New Holland, PA headquarters, is more outwardly focused. Working with products in the same way Berk-Tek’s customers use them, the Center’s experts seek to develop information that benefits the customer. They try to understand the issues customers face and to seek product modifications that can help them deal with those issues.

In the product testing and development area, TEK Center experts work with standards specifications. According to Connaughton, many of Berk-Tek’s competitors simply make a standards-compliant product. That’s not good enough, he says, adding that standards tend to be a lowest common denominator that meet some threshold. Berk-Tek wants to make sure the threshold is set appropriately. Here are some examples:

One Berk-Tek customer, limited by standards to placing equipment no more than 190 meters apart, faced a problem with its physical space. Using the TEK Center’s Link Loss Calculator, which takes standards-based information and mixes it with product-specific designs, they found they could place equipment up to 300 meters away without affecting performance. They solution was to specify a different set of products from Berk-Tek, instead of having to redesign their data center.

And this: as data centers moved to 40Gb, industry believed that ribbon cables were required, each optical fiber the same length to avoid skew. A TEK Center analysis showed Berk-Tek’s MDP cable came very close to high-performance ribbon and that, while skew was still important, it could be controlled in other ways. That became a sea change for the industry. People don’t talk much about ribbon cables in data centers nowadays. Furthermore, MDP cable is physically smaller than ribbon cable with lower cost for pathways, supporting infrastructure, and labor.

The TEK Center even includes a customer experience center where customers can work directly with Ph.D. level experts; people who relate to their experience, and can help them meet their challenges. “That’s powerful,” Connaughton says.