Intel to Let Servers Trade Data at 1.6Tbit/sec

Intel is reportedly planning to unveil a new fiberoptic interconnect that could move data so fast, even most supercomputers would be hard-pressed to keep up.

The new spec, labeled MXC, is a “next-generation optical connector” able to carry up to 1.6 Tbit/sec across special fiber cable using the silicon-optic interconnect technology Intel has been working on for years.

Silicon optics use the same modulators, detectors, waveguides, filters and other components needed for optical data transfer, but do so on silicon substrates that can be used to transfer data between processors or across integrated circuit boards, not just between servers or storage systems as with existing Fibre Channel links.

If MXC can run at 1.6Tbit/sec, it will leave even future optical-interconnect technologies in the dust.

The current target for optical interconnects is the IEEE’s 802.3bm, which is designed to carry 100Gbit/sec Ethernet across fiber, but only by combining four lanes of electrical interface across eight strands of fiber, with a maximum bandwidth of 25Gbit/sec per stream. IEEE 802.3bm isn’t scheduled to be finalized until 2015.

MXC’s cable should be able to do that all by itself, according to Intel, which listed the presumed medium for MXC as an as-yet-unannounced version of Corning Cable Systems’ ClearCurve optical cable that can run 25Gbit/sec across spans as wide as 300 meters.

Intel describes MXC as being far smaller than existing interconnects. With a limit of 25Gbit/sec per signal, it will still require a pretty thick twist of fibers to carry 1.6 terabits. The data on MXC, limited as it is, comes from the description of a panel called “MXC—The Next Generation Optical Connector,” which is scheduled for Sept. 12, the last day of IDF. (IDF will run from Sept. 10-12 at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco.)

MXC is specifically designed as a high-speed, high-volume, server-to-server connection designed to replace existing optical interconnects which, according to Intel’s session blurb, “are based on a design from the mid 1980s.” Intel has been working on the design of MXC for two years in conjunction with Corning Cable Systems, whose ClearCurve fiberoptic cable is designed to make server-connections simpler by allowing fiber to bend without reducing its capacity or breaking.

The newest publicly announced version, ClearCurve VSDN, is able to carry more than 10Gbit/sec across “10s of meters” while surviving bends as great as 180 degrees or being pinched double without interrupting the stream of light enough to lose its high bandwidth capacity.

Fiberoptic cable design has improved to the point that “bend insensitive” optical cable is not unusual, though most high-bandwidth versions perform well due to a relatively large diameter, according to research from French optical networking vendor Prysmian Group (PDF).

Corning’s VSDN and LW versions of ClearCurve are thin enough that they can deliver far higher bandwidth than most optical interconnects at a far smaller size, according to Intel’s description.


Image: SStiling/