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SDN Journal: Article

What Is the NEBS Level 3 Certification and Why Is It So Important?

The strategic difference between traditional and carrier grade servers

As our technological infrastructure has become more advanced, it has also become more critical to our daily lives and the very functioning of the world economy. With all of that weight resting on sometimes fickle devices, manufacturing to meet stringent usability and operational standards has become even more important.

NEBS Level 3 Certification
The Network Equipment-Building System (or NEBS) is such a standard, attempting to force device builders to engineer their products to withstand extreme conditions. The Level 3 certification is a compliance standard that addresses safety, durability and operability for carrier class equipment. The standards are very stringent to ensure that devices like NEBS-compliant telco servers will operate under extreme environmental conditions.

Basically, to achieve NEBS level 3 certifications, equipment needs to meet all the requirements of GR-63-CORE and GR-1089-CORE documents. Both describe standards for protecting the device from malfunctions caused by environmental factors that could interrupt its operations and cause critical network failures.

The GR-63 describes testing standards to help manufacturers design equipment that can resist "extreme temperature and humidity, vibrations, airborne contaminants, minimize fire ignitions and fire spread, as well as provide for improved space planning, simplified equipment installation, and increased energy efficiency." These standards can affect everything from the circuit board design and temperature tolerances of chipsets to the exterior shell of a device.

The GR-1089 details the ways in which a device should be able to avoid damage or interference from "lightning, 50/60-Hz commercial power fault conditions, Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), Electrical Fast Transient (EFT), Electromagnetic Interference (EMI), operation in the presence of a dc potential difference, and operation in a steady-state induced voltage environment." Manufacturers can use these engineering standards to build devices that are resistant to electrochemical erosion and ensure continued operation even under less than ideal power conditions.

Why NEBS is Important
Certainly, not all electronics need to be designed to operate under the kinds of conditions described in the Level 3 certification. In fact, much of a network's infrastructure may not require the most robust standards. But the carrier grade servers and transmission infrastructure that make up wireless carrier systems in the US have become integral as a part of our communications that they must remain in operation at all costs.

The types of conditions that can affect NEBS-compliant devices during and after a disaster are many. Cooling systems can fail or malfunction; fire can break out in data centers; catastrophic failures can ripple through the power grid-such threats can happen alone or in combination, and only the most robust designs are likely to survive and provide critical communication services.

With the right design, a compliant server, for example, can scale its performance and power consumption to maintain certain thermal values. Filters can be added to minimize dust penetration. The servers can include post-static rails instead of sliding rails to help reduce the potential for shock and vibration.

The NEBS Level 3 standards help to make critical devices stand up under temperature extremes and even help them operate during and after natural disasters, a time when those systems are critical as a lifeline to the public and the emergency crews serving affected areas. The phones must stay on in such an event, especially since much of the population has abandoned traditional landline service in favor of wireless, and that trend is likely to continue. You can checkout this video to see what some of the tests look like:

The combination of rapid network expansion and the experience of carriers in managing their infrastructure during extreme weather events is likely to only increase the demand for NEBS-compliant devices. Those standards continue to evolve, and they will probably become more demanding if anything over time.

More Stories By Brian Jensen

Brian Jensen works with Dell. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, cooking and spending time with his family. He has a passion for learning and writing about all things technology.

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