Intel says: Let there be light!

Silicon Photonics will change the face of datacenters and the cloud.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

New processors and multi-core SOCs may have grabbed most of the attention from Intel's datacenter related announcements yesterday, but the true game changer (and I really hate that phrase) is the production release of the Intel Silicon Photonics optical connection components.

With the performance possible from this technology, the entire design of datacenters is likely to change, not to mention the basic architecture of large scale server computing.

Intel's Silicon Photonics combines four technologies; the optical interconnect cables, the silicon laser, silicon modulator that is used to encode data and the module that converts the light transmission to the electronic signal; all of these units work together to deliver data at up to 100 Gbps between components. This technology was first announced in 2010 with a 50 Gbps  capacity, but yesterday's announcement doubled the speed and let the world know that Intel was ready to deliver the components in the volumes necessary to change the way that datacenters work.

These components are the backbone of Intel's Rack Scale Architecture. In an RSA design, the speed of the silicon interconnects means that individual components; processors, memory, storage, and network no longer need to reside in the same box. Individual racks can be dedicated to each of the component classes and scaled to meet the demands of the datacenter. Intel has also released the MXC connector and Clear Curve fiber technology which was developed in conjunction with Corning based on requirements supplied by Intel.

The target speed for this technology is to be able to deliver up to 1.6 terabits per second and distances up to 300 meters. Combined with RSA this would significantly alter not only the way that datacenters are designed out but also how applications are developed to take best advantage of the scalability changes and the way that services can be delivered.

For an excellent description of the capabilities of the technology, take a look at this article in the MIT Technology Review.

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