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XLoom weaves optics solution for Infiniband

Posted: 10 Oct 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:optical module? Infiniband? CX4 copper interconnects? Ethernet?

XLoom Communications Inc. has rolled out a new optical module to migrate CX4 copper interconnects to 100m over standard optical fiber for a broad range of data center systems. The startup is following in the footsteps of Intel Corp. and startup Quellan, which both recently rolled out modules to replace copper with optical links for Infiniband traffic.

A million in 2008
With annual sales of Infiniband ports expected to reach a million units in 2008, more companies are lining up to take the clustering and storage interconnect beyond the CX4 copper cables, typically limited to a reach of less than 10m. XLoom said its solution could enable 100m CX4 optical lengths.

The optical fibers are also thinner and lighter than their copper counterparts. That aids cooling in data center systems that are typically nagged by high power consumption and heat.

"For Infiniband to be a data center interconnect it needs to have the same media options Ethernet has," said David Sachs, Xloom CEO.

Sachs said as many as 35 percent of today's GbE connections and nearly all 10GbE connections ride optical media. Based on that metric, he estimated as many as 400,000 Infiniband ports could move to optical in 2009.

Today almost all system-to-system Infiniband links use copper CX4 cables that carry four channels of 5Gbps traffic. The XLoom AVDAT 4X supports those data rates, and XLoom is pushing its technology to 10Gbps per channel in the future.

The AVDAT 4X fits into a standard CX4 mechanical slot and is electrically compatible with that interconnect. It supports InfiniBand single- and double-data rates as well as 10G Ethernet XAUI optical interfaces and Fibre Channel switches. The module also could support an optical option for the estimated five percent of 10G Ethernet systems using CX4 cables, Sachs said.

The transceiver, called the iFlame, is based on a 1?m MEMS silicon design fabricated in Sweden. The chip consumes 1W on a 3.3V supply and has an integrated carrier to link to standard 12-fiber optical ribbons.

Downsized 12x Infiniband
The design is essentially a downsized version of a 12x Infiniband chip and module XLoom created more than a year ago for wider connections popular in Cisco and IBM switches at the time. Demand for the 12x switches has not lived up to expectations, however, driving the company's move to the more popular CX4 standard.

Sachs said XLoom still hopes to marry its 12x approach with a 10Gbps channel for a device that will support next-generation the 100Gbps Ethernet specification now being drafted by the IEEE.

The company is also exploring an optical module that would serve cabled versions of the 5GHz version of PCIe. The PCI SIG finished a standard for a cabled version of express earlier this year, but it is currently focused on 2.5GHz copper links.

XLoom has taken just $10 million in venture financing since it was founded. The company is exploring deals to license its technology to vendors who want to use it for other types of optical modules.

Sachs hopes revenues from the CX4 module, and possibly the next product on the company's road map, will drive the startup to profitability.

The XLoom CX4 module will cost no more than $100 to the end user, Sachs said. Standard XFP optical modules can cost more than $400.

Neither competitors Intel or Quellan would give pricing for their solutions which include a bundle of the transceiver modules and optical cables. Intel said for long-reach solutions its approach would not carry a significant premium over existing cabling.The Quellan approach uses new cabling from W.L. Gore Associates and carries traffic just 35m.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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