Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Intel's Light Peak Optical Interconnect - Coming to Data Centers?

By Lisa Huff

Intel (INTC) made a big splash at its developer's forum in September 2009 by introducing its Light Peak technology. Light Peak uses a new controller chip with LOMF (Laser Optimized Multimode Fiber) and a 10G 850nm VCSEL-based module with a new optical interface connector, which has yet to be determined. It is aimed at replacing all of your external connectors on your PC including USB, IEEE 1394, HDMI, DP, PCIe, etc. It is also targeted at other consumer electronic devices like smart phones and MP3 players.

Intel designed both the controller chip and the optical module, but will only supply the chip. It is working with a couple of top optical component manufacturers on the modules—Avago (AVGO) and TDK. The semiconductor giant expects to ship its first products this year, but would not say who its initial customers will be. It did tell me that it has "received general support from the PC makers" and both SONY and Nokia have gone on record publicly supporting Light Peak. Both companies are willing to entertain a new standard centered on the Light Peak technology. These labors are expected to pay off with formal standardization starting this year.

According to Intel, Light Peak is expected to start shipping this year with several PC manufacturers evaluating it. Next year is anticipated to be a transitional year and by 2012, we should start seeing Light Peak commercially available on PCs. While I would never bet against Intel, this is quite an aggressive schedule. Even USB took longer than that to be adopted and it was a copper solution that was easily implemented by consumers. However, it sure would be nice to have just one connector for my PC!

While Intel says it has targeted this technology at consumers, with its 10G data rate and 100-meter optical reach, it could easily be extended to LAN and/or data center applications.

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