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Seeing the light

Optical links could boost data rates, whilst cutting power consumption substantially. By Roy Rubenstein.

Data centres – and the telecom infrastructure that connects them to end users –consume some 9% of global energy production, according to a study by ADVA Optical Networking. And that figure is set to grow as more users obtain broadband access.
One way to cut power consumption is to optimise the layout of equipment to reduce the air conditioning load. Another is to use, where possible, point to point schemes instead of data packet forwarding routers. Such core routers in the internet backbone account for a considerable fraction of the overall power consumed.
IT managers are also adopting more powerful computing and switch elements. Fewer, higher performance systems may save electricity overall, but such dense systems – racks of servers connected to switches – place an onus on I/O. And here too power is an issue.
Links between racks and chassis are typically short – up to 10m or 15m – and use copper cabling. But as more 10Gbit/s links appear in data centres, interest is growing in optical links. Optical cabling extends the reach to some 100m and weighs a lot less than copper.
Moreover, optical links have lower power consumption: second generation ics for 10GbaseT – the 10Gbit/s copper standard – consume some 6W, whereas optical interfaces draw less than 1W.
Meanwhile, next generation servers will use 40Gbit/s interfaces whilst Ethernet switches and routers will adopt 100Gbit/s links once such interfaces become available in the next two years. Such high speeds will tax further copper’s speed/distance performance and this is why optical transceiver companies expect the parallel optics market to grow strongly.

Roy Rubenstein

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