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OFC/NFOEC 2010: Fiber, Flops and Fireflies

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SAN DIEGO, March 26, 2010 — At the nearby port and rail hub, the concern was how to move more goods for less. Those inside the San Diego convention hall at the just concluded OFC/NFOEC worried about how to move more bits for less money and energy.

Announcements from Avago Technologies and Marvell Technology show how this might be done, as did presentations from Alactel-Lucent USA and Google.
The show had an announced attendance of 9700, up slightly from last year's almost 9500. The number of participating companies also remained about the same, at 500+.

Big (peta)flops

Dedicated to fiber optic pioneer and 2009 Nobel prize winner Charles Kao, this year's show seemed to be peppered with 100 gigabit interfaces. There were product debuts and the announced approval by the Optical Internetworking Forum of a 100G transmitter implementation.

Avago unveiled a low-cost miniature 12-channel parallel optic transmitter and receiver module (at left and below right) at OFC/NFOEC. (Photos: Avago)

For even more speed, Avago unveiled a low-cost miniature 12-channel parallel optic transmitter and receiver module. Designed in collaboration with IBM, the module can handle data rates up to 120 gigabits per second, double what was possible previously. Incorporating III-V semiconductors, it sends and receives 850-nm light.

The whole thing is smaller than a dime and will go into Blue Waters, a joint effort of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, its National Center for Supercomputing Applications, IBM, and the Great Lakes Consortium for Petascale Computation. It is supported by the National Science Foundation and the University of Illinois.

Blue Waters is expected to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world for open scientific research when it comes online in 2011. It will be the first system of its kind to sustain one petaflop performance on a range of science and engineering applications.

The project's more than 200,000 processor cores need to talk to each other rapidly and efficiently. That requires replacing copper with something else, explained IBM's senior technical staff member Alan Benner at a panel discussion. "We have to do it with optical."

For Avago, the key is to build the modules, make money, and hopefully translate the technology into other products. That mandates hitting certain manufacturing targets.

"We have to make everything at a low cost," said Avago strategic marketing director Mitchell Fields at the same panel.
Marvell says its new chip, released at OFC/NFOEC, should boost home connectivity while cutting energy. Shown at left is the reference interface box into which the new chip goes. (Photo: Marvell)

For the network's edge, Marvell unveiled a chip that should boost home connectivity while cutting energy. The chip supports industry standard broadband optical access solutions that could provide up to 2.5 gigabits per second to each home.

Mimicking fireflies

Using less energy and cutting costs were a constant theme throughout the conference. At the Plenary Session, Hideo Miyahara, president of Japan's National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, predicted that biologically inspired networks might provide a solution.

He gave an example based on fireflies, which synchronize their flashes in a self-organized, robust, and autonomous way. Technology exploiting this mechanism in a pulse-coupled oscillator can allow sensor networks to send data in to a central station, moving it in concentric hops. This approach prolongs battery life and allows the network to more easily adapt to changes, said Miyahara.

There were many other ideas and concepts at the conference, evidenced by a blizzard of more than 1000 submitted papers. These were split about evenly between North America, Europe and Asia in terms of origin.

Something for nothing

All of those ideas may be needed. At the Plenary session, Philippe Kreyer, executive vice president of Alcatel-Lucent USA, noted that provider revenue is growing by single digits while demand is shooting upward by 40 or 50 percent a year.

Thus, the cost to move a bit has to be cut. This, said Kreyer, might be done by all-optical switching, switching at the lowest possible layer, greater integration of photonics and electronics, a converged backbone, or some combination of these approaches.

New and emerging markets may not provide much relief from this cost pressure. Brian Herlihy, CEO of the SEACOM fiber optic undersea cable project that links east Africa to the world, said at the same session that the continent's demand for data appears insatiable. But, he noted, SEACOM's business model counts on continued cost reductions.

A presentation by Google senior engineering and architecture manager Vijay Gill at a service provider summit underscored how cutting costs and energy might be the same thing. In describing the company's warehouse-scale computers, Gill said. "You are talking about saving a lot of operating expenses for every milliwatt you squeeze out."

But even in this case, price pressure remains. At a Q&A afterwards, Gill said that reductions in latency achieved by switching to optical had to be done with little or no increase in cost.

Next year's OFC/NFOEC will be in Los Angeles from March 6-10, 2011.

Hank Hogan
[email protected]
Mar 2010
optical fiber
A thin filament of drawn or extruded glass or plastic having a central core and a cladding of lower index material to promote total internal reflection (TIR). It may be used singly to transmit pulsed optical signals (communications fiber) or in bundles to transmit light or images.
100-gigabit interfaces100G850 nmAlactel-Lucent USAAlan BennerAvagoAvago Technologiesbattery lifebiologically inspired networksBlue WatersBrian Herlihybroadband optical accessBusinessCharles KaoCommunicationseast Africafiber opticsfirefliesGoogleHank HoganHideo MiyaharaIBMIII-V semiconductorsindustrialIndustry EventsJapanMarvell TechnologyMitchell FieldsNational Institute of Information and Communications TechnologyOFCOFC/NFOECoptical fiberOptical Internetworking Forumparallel optic transmitterpetascale supercomputerPhilippe Kreyerpulse-coupled oscillatorreceiver moduleSan DiegoSEACOMsensor networksSensors & Detectorstrade showstransmitterundersea cable projectVijay Gill

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