Friday, November 19, 2010

SC10 and Optical Components for the Data Center

By Lisa Huff

It's a beautiful time of year in New Orleans for the top supercomputing companies to show their wares. While I wouldn’t consider SC10 exactly the place to sell optical components, there were a few new developments there. SCinet – the network that is always built at the top HPC conference – boasted 100G Ethernet as well as OTu4. Alcatel-Lucent, Ciena, Cisco, Force10 and Juniper, among others donated equipment to build this network. Module vendors Avago Technologies, Finisar and Reflex Photonics contributed QSFP and CFP 40G and 100G devices to the cause.

Meanwhile, the Ethernet alliance was showing two demonstrations in its booth – a converged network running FCoE and RoCE over 40GigE and 100GigE. Nineteen different vendors participated in this demo that was run by the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab. Both CFPs and QSFPs were used in this demo.

Some of you may wonder why I would attend SC10. I keep my eye on the HPC market because it usually indicates where the broader data center market will be in a few years. And, in fact, even medium-sized businesses’ data centers with higher computational needs are starting to resemble small HPC centers with their server clusters using top-of-rack switching.

Most of the top optical transceiver vendors and even some of the smaller ones see this market as an opportunity as well. While InfiniBand still uses a lot of copper interconnects, for 40G and 120G, this is changing. QSFP was the standout for 40G IB displays and CXP AOCs were shown for 120G as well. Avago Technologies was the first to announce a CXP module at the show.

Some believe that the CXP will be short-lived because there is progress being made on 4x25 technologies – Luxtera announced its 25G receivers to go with its 25G transmitter that it announced earlier this year. But it will still be a few years before all of the components for 25G will be ready for system’s developers to spec in. Tyco Electronics had a demonstration at their booth showing it is possible to run 28G over eight inches of a PCB, but this was still a prototype. And Xilinx has announced a chip for 28G electrical transceivers that can be used with this board design. But, none of these devices are even being tested by equipment manufacturers yet and the CXP has already been adopted by a few. So I think the CXP may have more life in it than some people may think.

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