Optical components

OIF Gets Backplane-Happy

The Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) is trying to decide whether to add high-speed serial links to its standardization charter, and one intriguing option that's emerged is to combine forces with the nascent High Speed Backplane Initiative (HSBI).

One HSBI member company gave the spiel to OIF members at an Oct. 8 interim meeting, says Steve Joiner, chair of the OIF's technical committee and director of marketing for Ignis Optics. That meeting was convened to discuss whether the OIF wants to dive into high-speed serial links -- and if so, what existing efforts might make sensible partners.

"We definitely do not want to do redundant activities. The whole industry's too busy for that," says Joiner.

Nine companies created the HSBI earlier this year to drive de facto standards for serial 5-Gbit/s backplanes, with an eye towards eventual 10-Gbit/s technology (see Backplane Bandits Get Together). The speed is important, but so is the "serial" part. Current backplane architectures rely on parallel interfaces such as SPI-4 Phase 2, which splits a 10-Gbit/s interface across 16 lanes of 622 Mbit/s apiece. A serial interface would use fewer pins, which not only consumes less power but also makes it feasible to pack more transceiver modules onto a line card.

So far, HSBI is concentrating on signal processing, the bit-by-bit electronics side of a backplane standard. The OIF could add system-level considerations to the effort and would also lend HSBI the credibility of an established organization.

"This is a logical step, and the HSBI [would be] more likely to have widespread industry acceptance," says Kamal Dalmia, technical marketing manager for HSBI member Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL).

The Oct. 8 meeting included input from multiple speakers but was open only to OIF members. The company representing HSBI had to join OIF in order to get on the docket, Joiner says -- although he won't reveal which company that was. Nor would Joiner comment on what other ideas were presented.

Joiner stressed that while OIF members are interested in the HSBI's work, there's been no formal proposal to merge the two groups. Plenty of other possibilities abound, including the OIF allowing the HSBI to finish its efforts independently.

For now, HSBI members are drafting a project proposal for the OIF. A clearer picture should emerge after the next OIF meeting, scheduled for the week of Nov. 11 in Orlando, Fla.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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