As many as 64 fibers can be bundled into one MXC cable, bringing its total capacity to as much as 1.6Tbps, Krutul said. That means MXC can be used for the 10Gbps connections commonly used in data centers today as well as newer 40Gbps and 100Gbps versions, up to the Terabit Ethernet that Ethernet researchers envision in the future, he said. Other protocols, such as PCI Express, could also ride over MXC fiber. MXC components convert the electronic signals at each end of a connection into optical signals, then back again at the other end.
There are longer-range fiber systems, but they use single-mode fiber, which is more expensive and harder to install than multimode fiber, which MXC uses. Cables made with this type of fiber are highly flexible and much thinner than typical copper cable. That difference can add up in a data center where hundreds of thousands of servers need to be linked together, said Chris Phillips, general manager of Windows Server and System Center program management at Microsoft. It's one of the things that has to change in data centers, he said.
"Wires really are hard," Phillips said.
Masses of cables can restrict air flow and get in the way of technicians working in the data center, making it more likely they'll knock one out of a port, Phillips said.
MXC is designed to prevent that type of accident, as well as breaks due to dust, the biggest threat to fiber in data centers, Intel's Kruzul said. The connectors Intel has developed for MXC can withstand up to 45 pounds of pull force before getting accidentally dislodged, compared with 10 or 11 pounds for current fiber connectors, Kruzul said. In addition, a "beam expander" feature built into the connector spreads out the highly focused beam of light so a piece of dust won't block the entire beam, he said.
The connector also is designed for low cost and greater reliability with just seven parts, compared with 27 parts for existing fiber connectors, he said.
Intel wants to publish the MXC specification so third-party cabling vendors can make products for it, driving volume up and costs down, Kruzul said. But the company has to work through some issues, such as intellectual property, before going ahead, he said. It may also seek to have MXC standardized in cable organizations and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), but those processes tend to take a long time, Kruzul said.