Death to copper cables: Intel turns to light for fast data transfers

Intel's first silicon photonics modules are designed for data transfers between servers

Intel believes the days of using copper wires for data transfers, both between computers and inside of them, are numbered because optical communications are on the horizon.

The chipmaker has started shipping silicon photonics modules, which use light and lasers to speed up data transfers between computers.

The silicon photonics components will initially allow for optical communications between servers and data centers, stretching over long distances, said Diane Bryant, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group.

Over time, Intel will put optical communications at the chip level, Bryant said during a keynote at Intel Developer Forum on Wednesday. That means light will drive communications inside computers.

PCs and servers today use older electrical wiring for data transfers. But the data transfer speeds via those cables had reached a brick wall, and fiber optics provide a way to shuffle data at faster speeds, Bryant said.

In addition to an ability to stretch across kilometers, the fiber optic cables will take up less space than older cables, Jason Waxman, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Solutions Group, said in an interview.

Fiber optic cables are a better option than denser copper cabling in data centers, Waxman said. Depending on the workload and implementation of servers, fiber optics can also be cheaper than copper cabling.

The first silicon photonics modules will allow for data transfers at up to 100Gbps (bits per second). The technology will be based on the widely used Ethernet protocol, but servers will require special switches to support silicon photonics. Ultimately, silicon photonics could support other data transfer and networking protocols.

The silicon photonics transceivers and other components will be widely available later in the year, though many implementations could take place early next year, Waxman said.

Intel has shipped silicon photonics modules after multiple-year delays. Intel has developed the technology over 16 years, but initial shipments were delayed after components failed to meet quality standards.

Intel has released a connector called MXC for silicon photonics connections between servers. The chipmaker has also created a protocol called O-PCI (Optical PCI) for PCI-Express communications over optical cables.

Intel has big plans for redesigning data centers around silicon photonics. The blazing throughput of optical communications will allow for the decoupling of major system components, including CPU, storage, memory, into separate boxes.

Cramming storage, memory, and processing units into discrete blocks could reduce the size of server installations and overall power consumption. Separated boxes could be beneficial for in-memory database and ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications, which require large memory resources.

Intel has tried using optical connectors for Thunderbolt, but the idea hasn't taken off yet partly because the cables are expensive. Unlike copper cables, optical cables don't carry power, which means Thunderbolt peripherals would need to be attached to AC power.

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags intel

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Mobile

Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >

Exec

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?