MSA: What it does (and doesn’t) mean for you.

When it comes to transceivers, the term “MSA spec” is often mentioned, but what does it actually mean? And if the transceivers you’re buying are to MSA spec, does that guarantee OEM compatibility? The answer is…not always.

You may think that there’s an official standards organization, but there’s not. You may have heard that two “MSA” transceivers of the same form factor are identical twins, but they’re not. Multi-Source Agreements (MSAs) do, however, dictate a lot about a transceiver. Each non-proprietary form factor has its own MSA which dictates important elements such as physical dimensions, electrical lanes, and details of the memory structure.

Memory Maps and Mad Libs

Every transceiver has a memory structure that allows the platform using it to interact with it. The memory is mapped out into pages and regions on those pages. Some regions are checklists describing the transceiver’s capabilities, while others are updated on the fly by the transceiver to reflect operating conditions and diagnostic information. A third category is open for vendors to do with as they please, such as adding product names and/or proprietary information…transceiver Mad Libs, anyone?

Open to Options

When working with an “open” platform, the platform uses the MSA-designated memory areas, but also attempts to make do with whatever values it’s getting back. The transceiver behaves as the components dictate. As long as the electrical communication to and from that module makes sense, it’s going to do its job of modulating and demodulating signals over various media. The intent of open platforms is to add flexibility, giving consumers the ability to use whatever transceivers they choose. Thanks to the MSA standards that dictate where the product naming is held and where diagnostic and monitoring information can be read, this works out pretty well…but buyer beware. The disadvantage of open platforms is that there are no quality or MSA adherence guarantees, so picking a reputable provider is critical.

Making a Good First Impression

When a “closed” platform meets a transceiver, it reads the memory areas and looks for specific, identifying characteristics. Similar to a job interview, the platform uses a Q&A session to validate the transceiver. Each OEM platform has its own language, with required fields and information. The platform cross references the read data against an internal table, requires a certain combination of the checkboxes be marked, and/or even uses password schemes for validation.

Ignoring the Red Flags

Following the basic MSA will only get a transceiver so far. Without OEM-specific information, the transceiver never makes it past the first interview. Even worse, sometimes all initial signs point to green, and a subtle red flag or alarm is overlooked. The optics may perform as planned for months or years until there’s an OEM software upgrade, and that subtle alarm turns into a network outage.

This is one of the reasons Integra Optics defines 100% interoperability as NO alarms. Integra transceivers go beyond MSA compliance, and are identically coded to each OEM platform, every time, ensuring your network operates exactly as intended without any warnings or alarms.