Increasing SDI Bandwidth: Intel® Silicon Photonics

By: Victor Krutul, Director Silicon Photonics Marketing

There is growing interest in testing and deploying Software Defined Infrastructure (SDI) in enterprise data centers. Analysts at Research and Markets estimate the worldwide SDI market will grow from roughly $400 million this year to over $5 billion by 2018. Gartner listed SDI as one of the major disruptive technologies to watch and IDC says that cloud software spending accounts for 86% of the worldwide cloud revenue. Impressive!


I think we all know what is driving SDI: data. With the rise in social media, richer content, data analytics and cloud computing, there is a huge increase in the amount of data that is being generated. Domosphere reports that every minute over 200 million emails are sent, Google receives over 2 million search queries and Apple receives about 47 thousand app downloads. With this data explosion comes a corresponding need to increase the bandwidth to move it in, around, and out of the cloud.


Enter Intel® Silicon Photonics

Photonics communication, aka fiber optics, is the practice of transmitting and receiving data using laser light over an optical fiber. Fiber optics has three fundamental advantages over copper signaling. When electrons go down a copper cable they generate electromagnetic interference (EMI). This EMI reduces the speed and distance a copper interconnect can go. When one uses fiber optics for signaling the photons don’t interfere with each other, hence the signals can be transmitted faster and farther. For example, a 10Gbps copper cable used in the data center can go about 7 meters while a typical fiber optic cable can go up to 300 meters. But optical transceivers can be expensive. They are made from expensive and exotic materials like Indium-Phosphide and sometimes require manual assembly. That’s why we don’t see fiber optics used more often in the data center: They are expensive.


With Intel® Silicon Photonics (SP), Intel will make optical devices out of silicon in a CMOS fab. Silicon is the most abundant material in the earth’s crust and Intel has a huge investment in CMOS fabs and manufacturing techniques which will be used to manufacture Intel® SP. Net result, service provides will be able to get the advantages of optics with the price advantages of Silicon and CMOS manufacturing.


How Intel SP will improve SDI

SDI establishes software defined resource pools that are shared by orchestration software across many servers. The benefit of this sharing results in needing fewer resources across the whole data center. Obviously SDI works better with a faster network. Today’s optical modules can transmit data at 10Gbps or 40Gbps. Intel has previously announced that its first Intel® Silicon Photonic modules can carry up to 100Gbps, or 2.5 times today’s optical devices. This means that resource pools can be made bigger without paying a latency penalty because of the speed of the network.

Intel® SP modules can also transmit data at up to 300 meters, which means these resource pools can be farther away. This gives the service provider more flexibility when laying out their data center and more important, the ability to build bigger resource pools. For example, rather than having one resource pool for each floor in a data center, the service provider can have just one resource pool for the whole data center. This would result in fewer resources required in the pool because they are shared by more servers, ultimately leading to lower costs. In an SDI world, fast data transfer will be critical and interconnect speeds must keep pace with innovation. Intel Silicon Photonics will be a key enabler of the SDI revolution.


For more information, check out this recent Intel® Chip Chat podcast or the Silicon Photonics Web page.