Fields of Fiber

    What On-Board Optics Means for Density and Flexibility

    Posted by M. H. Raza on Apr 13, 2015 10:48:21 AM
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    AP-3620_cropThis past week I read an article in Lightwave Magazine and another in Network World about the formation of the Consortium for On-board Optics (COBO), a group that seeks to create specifications and increase the faceplate density of data center switches and adapters. The Lightwave article goes on to mention that companies that maintain “mega scale” data centers may soon require greater faceplate density than QSFP28 modules can support.

    Density is becoming increasingly important because space is at a premium in data centers and, as networks continue to expand, it will become an even more important factor in designing these facilities. With an eye toward this evolving challenge, COBO is looking at on-board transceivers that replace SFP+ or QSFP type cage based transceivers. 

    Fiber Mountain has some experience in the area of on-board optics, as we discussed its merits several years ago during our planning stages, even before we officially formed or launched the company. Our experience and the developments in the data center world over the past year have only cemented our belief that the future is in all-fiber networks. On-board optics is an important part of this future, so we are delighted to see the birth of COBO and that major players like Microsoft are involved.  

    Fiber Mountain chose to implement on-board optics in our top of rack (ToR) switches and Optical Path Exchange product lines. The faceplate for the ToR switches has 12 MPO connectors with 24 fiber-optic strands in each connector. One of these 24-fiber ports can be configured via software to use its 12 pairs as 12 x 10Gbps connections. That same MPO interface could also be used for 40Gbps connections, configurable via software, providing the user with unprecedented flexibility in a data center network. The cable and connector are exactly the same and fiber strands are resources controlled by software to be consumed in any way that data center managers want.    

    Additionally, Fiber Mountain’s ToR switch offers the highest density faceplate available in one RU on the market today.  Since the ToR switch is based on a Broadcom Trident II chip, the maximum 104 ports are available in any number of 10 and 40 Gbps connections to leverage the full capability of the switch chip, without forcing the customer into a fixed configuration in terms of number of 10/40 Gbps port availability. 

    Our plan moving forward is to put an additional 12 MPO interfaces on this one RU faceplate to provide a user with more than 200 ports of 10, 40, and 100 Gbps connections, all within one RU faceplate and all with the flexibility described above. Fiber Mountain also added physical layer intelligence to the switch, which enables unique identification and software management of cable throughout the network. 

    COBO’s formation is a clear signal that denser, more flexible networks are the only way that data centers will be able to meet growing demands relatively simply and cost-effectively in the near future. We are looking forward to having this discussion and others, as well as showing our onboard optics-based products, at Interop in Las Vegas (in booth #2067) in a couple of weeks. 

    Be sure to check back on this blog soon for my observations about the changes we’ve seen in the data center world between our launch at Interop New York last fall and the upcoming conference in Nevada.

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    Topics: on-board optics