Blaze Hits the Xenpak Trail
Today Blaze Network Products Inc. announced it had shipped 10-Gbit/s transceivers that comply with the new Xenpak form factor, a multisource agreement led by Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and Agere Systems (NYSE: AGR) (see Blaze Shipping Flamethrower).
Sound familiar? It should. Although Blaze claims it's the first with a 10-Gbit/s Xenpak transceiver, back in September Agilent announced that it had the first commercially available 10-Gbit/s Ethernet Xenpak-compliant module (see Agilent Boosts 10 Gig Ethernet ).
So which company is actually the first? The answer is that they are both technically first. The Blaze product is based on coarse wavelength division multiplexing (CWDM) technology, which means that its module combines four 1310 nanometer lasers that transmit traffic at between 2.5 Gbit/s and 3.125 Gbit/s each into one module, for a combined throughput of just over 10 Gbit/s.
Agilent, on the other hand, has developed a 1310nm serial laser module. This means that it uses one laser to transmit signals at 10 Gbit/s. Both products adhere to the Xenpak form factor specification, which simply means that they are packaged in the same form factor so that networking system vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) or 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) can use either transceiver interchangeably, depending on customer requirements.
According to Kirk Bovill, director of marketing for Blaze, its 10Gbase-LX4 solution can transmit signals up to 10 kilometers over singlemode fiber and in some cases can be stretched up to 20 kilometers or even 25. Agere just announced it will be shipping its 10-Gbit/s Xenpak modules, which can transmit up to 10 km, starting in January (see Agere Releases 10-Gig Transceiver).
The real difference between the approaches comes when comparing transmission distances over multimode fiber, the most commonly installed fiber in enterprise networks. In this environment, Blaze claims that its module transmits signals up to 300 meters. Neither Agere nor Agilent specify transmission distances over multimode fiber, yet both companies claim their modules are geared toward enterprise networks and metro networks, which tend to have singlemode fiber installed. What’s more the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) has not specified distances for serial transmitters over multimode fiber.
So what's the difference? It may come down to different market segments. Bovill says that companies like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and 3Com Corp. (Nasdaq: COMS) have publicly stated that to fulfill many of their customers’ requirements they need solutions that can transmit signals up to 300 meters over multimode fiber. So yes, this could be a big deal for products in the enterprise market.
"The 10GBase-LX4 transceiver is the optimal solution for 10-gigabit Ethernet in the enterprise space," said Shaun Paice, Business Strategy manager at 3Com's Business Networks Company, in the Blaze press release. "It addresses two of the IEEE 802.3ae distance objectives for multimode and singlemode cable plants through a single port. This makes it easier for customers to implement 10-gigabit Ethernet and protects their existing cabling investments."
Blaze isn’t the only company adhering to the IEEE 802.3ae 10GBase-XGLX4 standard. Molex Inc. (Nasdaq: MOLX) and Pine Photonics Communications Inc. are also working on products. Earlier in September, the three companies completed vendor-to-vendor testing to ensure that the interoperability requirements of the IEEE specification were satisfied.
While serial applications seem to be geared primarily for metro applications, Bovill says that CWDM 1300nm solutions like Blaze’s are suited for either metro or enterprise applications.
"I think that in the private metro area network market, which includes educational networks and utilities networks, we would be optimal, since it is a point-to-point link that would have some mix of multimode and singlemode cable plant,” he says.
Bovill says that Blaze is currently shipping to over 25 customers, with roughly 500 units already installed in customers’ gear.
— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading