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Data Center Interconnect

Intel Shipping Silicon Photonic Modules

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has been shipping its silicon photonic interconnect modules since June. The information was revealed by Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF). (See CEO Chat: Intel's Alexis Black Bjorlin)

Intel is producing 100G PSM4 modules, intended for internal use in data centers for so-called east-west traffic, connecting switch to switch.

Bryant didn't provide the list of companies it is shipping to, but did invite one key customer to the IDF stage. Kushagra Vaid, general manager of the hardware infrastructure group at Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Azure, said his company would start deploying Intel's interconnect in its own data centers "soon."

Vaid noted that speed requirements within data centers keep accelerating, from 1 Gbps just a few years ago to 50G today. Silicon photonic interconnect will help Microsoft (and other data center operators) scale their data centers from 50G to 100G and eventually beyond to 400G.

Bryant was sanguine about the prospects for its new PSM4 module as the need for higher throughputs develops. "We expect to see silicon photonics everywhere in the data center," she said.


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That might eventually someday include replacing copper, still universally more efficient for server-to-server connections. Vaid observed that at 100G, however, copper is going to hit a wall. At that point, adopting fiber optic interconnect will be necessary for server-to-server connectivity as well.

Vaid also noted that Microsoft is using Intel FPGAs (from the recent Altera acquisition) to not only accelerate data center computing, but also data center networking. He did not offer details.

He also revealed that next year, Azure plans to release what it's calling the Azure Stack, which he explained will enable Microsoft enterprise customers to essentially run Azure on their private clouds.

There are any number of competitors pursuing silicon photonics, including Avago Technologies Pte. , Macom and Oclaro Inc. (Nasdaq: OCLR), but Bryant claimed Intel is the only one to incorporate its laser on the silicon. She said the company incorporates indium phosphide on the die to create the laser, and uses silicon to align the lasers, which she said contrasts with the manual alignment required by traditional silicon photonics.

It is not clear the claims are all accurate. Macom, for example, had a silicon photonics device it told Light Reading emitted light directly from the die (from the edge of the die, not from the planar surface, as is more typical with silicon photonics) at the most recent Optical Fiber Conference this past spring.

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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