Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Intel Silicon Photonics - the way forward

Intel presented at Networking Field Day on May 13, 2021 - I really recommend you check out the presentation on Silicon Photonics, you will likely learn something new if you are not staying super current on optical hardware. As a networking engineer, optics are a big part of what you deal with in designing and building networks. More importantly, it is likely the most expensive device per unit cost you will be buying for a regular data center deployment, or any deployment for that matter. So having an understanding of what is happening is critical to helping your company invest correctly and likely save some money in the process.

Some industry trends over the last 5-10 years are starting to dramatically change the landscape. If you are still doing MMF in your DC and still installing that as your primary fiber plant, it might be time to reconsider. Most DC builds are doing SMF for a wide variety of reasons. For today's 10/25/40/50/100/400G connections, SMF is likely more cost effective and gives you more options on how to build out your DC cable runs. To back this up, let's look at some data.

One of the interesting parts of what Intel shared was some trends on where Ethernet transceivers are going. Basically, 100G and 400G SMF is where things are heading and you need to plan and invest accordingly. And 400G SMF transceivers will start breaking away by 2023. This matches what I am seeing in the data center deployments I am involved with for customers. But it is nice to see industry data matching what you are seeing in the field.

So how is Intel innovating in the traditional transceiver business? They have found a way to produce a much more predictable, reliable and cost effective transceiver. I learned a lot from this presentation, and the surprise was how traditional transceivers are actually built. I had no idea some much manual and potential error prone process went into these devices. The traditional transceivers were more like custom kit cars versus modern car manufacturing. All the pieces have to fit and work and be precision placed and aligned. If any of that fails or doesn't work the transceiver fails. Compare that to an integrated optic which has everything designed and built as one discrete unit in silicon, it just makes so much sense that this is a better design and model for optics going forward. Check out the difference:

Then there is the next leap to changing how we think about optical completely. The move to co-packaged optics and changing from a pluggable format to just having the right optical interface on the device. It is a bit of a throw back to the days when an Ethernet interface or a Serialized interface was how you ordered your router and what was on that router was what you got. Modular interfaces wasn't a thing until later when multiple Ethernet quantity and multiple serial interface types were needed and making them modular was more cost effective. So, the density and cooling requirements for these devices will be much better than sticking with a pluggable design.

Intel has built a co-packaged optics Ethernet Switch to demonstrate what this could look like. Don't be surprised if this starts to become more common, especially when the higher density 100G/400G switches become the standard.

I had no idea how much innovation was happening in this space. Clearly Intel's investment in Silicon Photonics is going to change how networks are built, how much they cost and how fiber plant will be built today and the future. Check out the presentation and let me know what you think!

- Ed

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day events was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD25. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was/is paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event, if travel was involved. In addition, small swag gifts or donations were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was/is no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.

No comments: