Will Pluggable Optical Modules become Obsolete?

LightCounting reports on the IEEE Optical Interconnects Conference



The conversation began in massive, standing-room-only sessions at OFC 2017: how do we continue to scale the bandwidth in today’s hyperscale data centers?  Will we need to move away from pluggable optical modules? If so, why, when, and will the answer be on-board optical (OBO) modules or must we co-package the optics with the ASICs?

The conversation continued at the IEEE Optical Interconnects Conference held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This conference, attended many times by this LightCounting analyst, had long been about how the supercomputer industry can get to the next level (the Holy Grail of exascale) without consuming all the electrical power on the planet [OK, perhaps just an unreasonable portion of the world’s power]. But the supercomputer industry stepped back from running this conference in 2016, allowing the hyperscale datacenter folks to step in and begin to ask the hard, technical questions of optical interconnect researchers and manufacturers. A majority of the conference remained devoted to R&D presentations from academia and industry.  Program co-chairs were Ali Ghiasi and Ilya Lyubomirsky.

Picojoules per bit (pJ/bit) has much to do with the debate. It takes more energy to move a bit, even across a CMOS chip, than to operate the logic gates.  At each increase in SerDes speed, it takes more power to drive long PCB traces. The conference program asked if on-board optics will be an answer, or should the industry be working on the far more radical step of co-packaging ASICs and optics? What solutions will we have at 100Gb/s?

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