Calient Gets Data-Center Fever

Calient Technologies Inc. thinks the day of the all-optical switch has come, thanks to the massive expansion expected in data centers.

On Tuesday, the company is announcing the first major revisions to its C320 system. The X320 and C320, due to ship early in 2012, will be 7 rack units high (the FC320 took up three-quarters of a rack) and will consume 20 W total (versus the FC320's 400 W) while still sporting a 320x320 optical switching element. That's 20 W for all ports combined -- less than some chips consume, CEO Atiq Raza says.

Cost of the systems could be 80 percent lower than that of the C320, Raza says. Calient will target the switches at the data centers/WAN connection and at the links between big computing clusters within the data center.

Calient still plans to offer modular pieces of its technology to fit into other companies' systems, a strategy expressed last year by former CEO Greg Koss. (Koss is still with the company, in charge of the product side.)

By the way, you might have noticed us namedropping Atiq Raza, the dotcom-era venture capitalist and founder of Raza Microelectronics (acquired by NetLogic Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: NETL) which is being acquired by Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)). Raza became Calient's CEO about a year ago and helped raise a US$19.4 million round to fund this data-center drive. The funding isn't done, either; Raza says Calient will need another round "to help with the cash flow" based on projected demand for the product.

Why this matters
Could the age of the massive all-optical switch -- which created so much noise circa 2000 -- finally be arriving? Calient has been making a living selling the boxes for core networks and the termination points of overseas links, but it's only a $5 million market, Raza estimates.

If it happens, a long-needed upgrade of the platform will be crucial. Telco customers accepted the FC320's size and cost, but that didn't play with the data center crowd. "They pounded the table and said, 'Guys, this needs to be modernized,'" Raza says.

Raza claims the massive shrinking of the FC320 into smaller, less power-hungry versions will create a product without peer. Glimmerglass and Polatis Inc. will probably have something to say about that.

For more
Bits about Calient, all-optical switching and Raza.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

redface 12/5/2012 | 4:50:35 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever

I bet this 95% power reduction and 80% cost reduction comes about by cutting reliability requirements, such as redundancy.  If the data center already has redundancy built in,  then there is no need for optical backup circuit, which could result in major cost savings.  In this case,  Calient just sells a bare-bones large switch.  

rhr 12/5/2012 | 4:50:32 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever Where exactly will these switches fit and what will they connect in the data centre? We keep hearing about the move to flat architectures so is an 'agile optical network' really needed? even if it is low power. Or is this a technology looking for a market?

And what about the traditional optical switching/ ROADM space? Is Calient still interested here? AlcaLu is on record as saying it is interested in 3D MEMs switches.-

Craig, nice story. Can you share any more?
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:50:31 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever

redface -- Could be. Atiq also made it sound like customers just hadn't demanded an upgrade in years, so there's probably some run-of-the-mill electronics improvements to be had. But yes, to gloss past some of the telecom requirements to go after the data center ... that would make sense.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:50:31 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever

rhr - My impression was that inside the data center, the switch would be used for east-west connections between big clumps of computing.

So, I think they still fit the model of the flatter data center -- it's just a wider flatness flush with server-to-server kinds of traffic. One advantage to Calient would be low latency, but some of the big data-center fabric projects might challenge it there. Juniper is talking about 5 microsecond latency on one QFabric hop, for instance.

I neglected to ask about Calient's thoughts on the telecom ROADM space. IIRC, what I've heard suggested is that the eventual pileup of colorless etc.etc. ROADMs would create a niche for a big all-optical switching element -- but it's more a matter of the optical switch having to wait for its chance, rather than Calient, Glimmerglass et.al. actually dipping into the 1x9 or 1x20 kinds of ROADMs.

That was my impression, anyway; I'm on the road right now and drawing all this from foggy memory.

askjeevs 12/5/2012 | 4:50:29 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever

The biggest Problem in the datacenter is the usage of Copper cables, Also when they use fiber they go with SR/multimode SFPs. Calient still has a solution only for single mode fiber. People in the datacenter go for cheaper solutions, how do they justify the cost for going all optical with single mode fiber and costly SFPs.

redface 12/5/2012 | 4:50:29 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever

"How do they justify the cost for going all optical with single mode fiber and costly SFPs"


I think here is the answer to your question:  "Calient will target the switches at the data centers/WAN connection and at the links between big computing clusters within the data center."  It looks like the links from data center to the outside world will be single-mode fiber and that's where Calient plans to focus.  How big is the opportunity  I don't know.  It sounds plausible.  However,  Calient previously made similar projections about Fiber-to-the-home market which did not pan out.  So wait and see.  At least Calient milked $20M out of their existing investors.  

rhr 12/5/2012 | 4:50:23 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever Craig, thanks for the answer. You are right on both points. I have learnt that Calient's main push in 2012 is the data centre but that its optical switch module design very much plays a role in enabling CDC ROADMs.-

The optical module will be used for the add/ drop, alongside rather than replacing 1x9 or 1x20 WSSs which are used for the pass-through lambdas.-

HR's Sterling Perrin wrote a nice ROADM White Paper last year that includes two Calient diagrams that show how this would work.
rhr 12/5/2012 | 4:50:23 PM
re: Calient Gets Data-Center Fever Askjeevs, Redface, the Calient optical switch is being aimed at the 'mega' data centres, as used by the largest content service providers. Such players are putting single-mode fibre in their data centres for reach and scale. - - - -

The switch will also be used for what Calient calls cloud networking. Here enterprises' (single-mode) fibres that come into the data centre will connect to the platform where they will be monitored and switched.
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