For more than 10 years Intel has been trumpeting the benefits of silicon Photonics, which has been developed for two decades. Intel itself has long adhered to the concept of unbundled computing and storage devices for data centers, combined through optics. During Intel Interconnect Day 2019, the company revealed that its silicon Photonics had grown from a lab project to a product ready to go to buyers.
With increasing data rates, conventional copper cables can no longer be used even to connect devices within a single server Cabinet. If you were comparing a 3-meter 40-Gigabit DAC cable to a 100-Gigabit one, you probably noticed how much “weave” has become thicker due to additional shielding. But the high speed challenge of not only copper media, but fiber optic and multimode.
We are told that the largest digital companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook have their own views and strategies regarding fast networks. For example, Facebook invests in single-mode fiber to prepare the infrastructure for future updates in advance, and someone chooses what is cheaper now.
As for 100-Gigabit networks, today about 25% of them are laid on copper twisted pair, 50% - on multimode optics and 25% - on single-mode optics. Intel’s market share of 100 Gigabit networks is approximately 30%. This means that Intel Photonics are delivered to a third of the highest-margin high-speed network market.
Moreover, Intel says that in the last 6 quarters, the company became the No. 1 supplier for 100-Gigabit qsfp CWDM4 transceivers.
Device transceivers based on silicon Photonics
Today Intel-ovskaya silicon Photonics is already used in transceivers installed in the switches for data transfer inside the data Center and between data centers. Silicon can not be a source of light needed to create a laser, so the company uses indium phosphide as a source, and then silicon is used to modulate light and other functions.
One of the key advantages of silicon Photonics is the ability to embed a laser, photodetector and modulator into a silicon chip. Modern 100-Gigabit optical transceivers use the “gold box” design, manufactured with the highest laboratory accuracy, hermetically sealed and consisting of 26 components. Transceivers based on silicon Photonics have a more simple design of the 2 components, and even do not require sealing at production.
Intel believes that silicon Photonics will allow the production of 100-Gigabit optical modules on a large scale, and large data centers will install millions of 100-Gigabit transceivers.
Next stop - 400G
At the OCP Summit 2019 event, Facebook already showed a switch with 400 GBe ports. Analysts believe that by 2021 the market of 400-Gigabit transceivers will reach 1 million units, and the spread of this standard will be as fast as it was with 100-Gigabit networks. Intel has its 400 Gigabit qsfp-DD DR4 transceiver, which will go into mass production before the end of this year.
By the way, at such speeds, the transceiver itself is selected to the limitations of its form factor, and in the future the optics will be connected directly to the ASIC chip of the switch, bypassing the transceivers. Integration of the transceiver part and the processor will allow to build network switches with a switching matrix of 25.6 Tbit/s and 51.2 Tbit/s. Such solutions Intel will show closer to 2020.