Top 3 Data Center Challenges & How AECs Help Overcome Them

For decades, direct attach copper (DAC) cables have offered data centers enough speed and capacity to deliver data from rack to rack quickly and securely. But with new innovations in media, consumer experience and even customer expectations on speed, data center managers need a more complete toolbox to upgrade efficiently. Active electrical cables (AECs) provide a much-needed middle ground between DAC cables and fiber optics.

AECs contain a silicon chip inside the cable assembly, reconditioning the critical high-speed signals. Improved performance with lossless operation makes the benefits of AECs obvious. But how do they directly solve the challenges facing data centers today? Let’s find out.

Molex Active Electrical Cable (AEC)

Molex Active Electrical Cable (AEC)

Here are the top three challenges data centers around the globe are faced with today (and the top three ways AECs directly solve their problems):

  1. Networking requirements are evolving

Data centers are the backbone of all digital transformation and innovation that consumers enjoy today, offering real-time enablement for everything from entertainment to your Amazon cart. To maintain necessary data speeds and keep up with customer expectations regarding real-time, instant access to anything they need, data centers will either double their footprint by adding more servers or increase the efficiency of existing data centers.

If we think about today’s 56G PAM-4 (400 Gbps/port) data center—switches, servers and racks are generally all connected with a DAC. And when the distance the DAC needs to cover is less than 3.0m, DACs work perfectly. But with new advancements in technology and networking evolution requirements changing year after year (with current expectations changing from 56G PAM-4 400 Gbps/port to 112G PAM-4 800 Gbps/port), one way to make data center upgrades more efficient is to enable cable connections without experiencing signal loss. In other words, add AECs to the data center connectivity toolbox.

How AECs can help

Because of significant signal loss, DACs can’t effectively be used in a 112G PAM-4 800 Gbps/port environment to connect servers more than 2.0m away. As data travels down the DAC cable, some of the signal leaks or bleeds out, resulting in compromised data quality if the DAC is used to connect servers that are too far apart. Loss becomes even greater at higher frequencies.

AECs offer a way to bridge the gap for data centers. These cables are built with re-timers, one at each end of the cable. The re-timers recondition the entire signal, once at the beginning of the transfer and once again at the end. Each time, the re-timer cleans the signal, removes the noise and amplifies it—sending out a signal that is fresh and nearly brand new. Re-timers enable AECs to span up to 7.0m between servers while maintaining a high-speed freeway of data delivery.

Within a 112G PAM-4 800 Gbps/port environment, data center designers can still utilize DACs for shorter reaches—within a 1.0 to 1.5m distance, while leveraging AECs for reaches up to 7.0m before needing to result to more expensive optical solutions.

  1. Cable routing and management can be difficult

Between server racks, data centers often must maintain 25 to 50 bundles within a cable raceway or tray. These bundles can get quite large, making them hard to manage. DAC cables are thicker in diameter when compared to AECs, and when technicians face routing DACs, with their thicker diameters, those last 10 cables can be quite difficult, simply because of space limitations.

Large cable bundles also can block airflow, requiring data centers to crank up fans to pull in more air. This leads to higher power usage and a more difficult path for airflow to cool from the front to the back of the chassis. While DACs don’t require their own power, as passive cables do, they often require more power from a fan perspective.

How AECs can help

AECs use a smaller twinax (generally 30 or 32 AWG), making them easier to manage because, while longer, they are smaller in diameter. And that diameter comes into play, especially during installation. With the adoption of AECs, data centers can install and manage cable bundles faster and easier. The data center has less air impedance with AECs, and it’s easier to draw air from the front through the back of the server.

  1. Costs are rising, and data centers need to do more with less

Cost is critical for every industry and every product. For data centers, cost comes into play in a big way. In order to do more with less, keeping the same physical footprint and replacing as little equipment as possible while planning for future data requirements, data centers must consider cable options to upgrade existing server racks that are faster and more efficient.

How AECs can help

The availability of AECs provides data center managers a faster, clearer signal and a longer, low-loss cable without having to turn to costly active optical cables (AOCs). When connecting across relatively short distances (less than 7.0m) that are too far for DACs, AECs present a viable middle option for circumstances that don’t require fiber optics.

AEC products offer more intelligence than their passive counterparts, ensuring less channel loss and easier cable management. These products represent the next generation in cables and are critical to facilitating data center upgrades.

For more information about Molex’s AEC product offerings, please visit

Product Development Manager, Copper Solutions
I/O Solutions General Manager