September 04, 2013, 6:29 PM — An optical interconnect introduced by Intel on Wednesday may someday slim down cabling throughout data centers if the company can get enough vendors to mass-produce it.
The interconnect, which Intel is calling MXC, is designed to offer high speed with a long reach and a relatively low cost. Intel developed MXC with Corning and showed it off at a press event in San Francisco. Its next goal is to publish the MXC specification so fiber manufacturers can start using it to develop new products, said Victor Krutul, director of business development and marketing at Intel's Silicon Photonics Operation.
MXC is protocol-agnostic and could be used for network links throughout a data center, over technologies that could include Terabit Ethernet, Krutul said. At Wednesday's event, Intel used it to connect two trays of microservers to each other in a demonstration rack. The fiber could also be used to link servers to a top-of-rack switch, connect a series of those switches to a bigger switch at the end of a row, or form the backbone of the data-center network, Krutul said.
A key application where MXC may be needed is so-called rack-level computing, where the various components found in servers are separated and packed in large numbers into rack units of their own, Krutul said. Rack-level computing needs to bring together parts distributed throughout a data center, an ideal fit for MXC's range and speed, he said.
Intel gave a few details about MXC in its description of a session at next week's Intel Developer Forum. The announcement on Wednesday came alongside other signs that the company is making another push into networking, a market where it has had mixed results. Intel also announced the Atom C2000 low-power processor line, which will come in system-on-a-chip variants for switches and routers, among other uses.
MXC can carry 25Gbps (bits per second) on each fiber over a distance of 300 meters, a combination of speed and range that today's most comparable fiber technology, VCSEL (vertical cavity surface-emitting laser), can't achieve, said Ken Chong, an Intel silicon photonics product line manager. VCSEL offers 10Gbps over 300 meters now, but at 25Gbps it can only go 100 meters or less, he said.