SAN JOSE, Calif. – Optical communications will take a step closer to server and switch motherboards thanks to a new alliance that will develop interconnect standards. Microsoft has rallied a group of 14 data center vendors to form the Consortium for On-Board Optics (COBO) that hopes to release its first specifications in a year.
COBO will “define electrical interfaces, management interfaces, thermal requirements and pin-outs…[for] optical modules that can be mounted or socketed on a network switch or adapter motherboard,” according to a press statement from the group. It is initially expected to focus on 100 and 400G links.
“The goal is to bring the goodness of faceplate pluggable optics like SFP+ and QSFP+ to the on-board optics market,” said Brad Booth, COBO Chair and principal architect for Microsoft’s Azure Global Networking Services, in an email exchange with EE Times.
Bringing optical connections to the board helps switch makers break through current limits of how many optical ports can fit on the front panel of a system. “This will permit system OEMs to mount the optical modules in the same manner that they mount switch ICs and in a location that benefits power consumption and heat dissipation,” Booth said.
Currently vendors use a variety of proprietary formats for the so called on-board or embedded optics. The COBO specs aim to create a level playing field in which data center operators can choose interchangeable modules from multiple companies.
Members of COBO so far are Arista Networks, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Coriant, Dell, Finisar, Inphi, Intel, JDSU, Juniper Networks, Luxtera, Mellanox Technologies, Microsoft, Oclaro, Ranovus, Source Photonics and TE Connectivity.
“On-board optics permit greater switch radix with lower power consumption, which is really important as we continue to increase speed and bandwidth,” Booth said.
“The overall market for such optical modules is relatively small, but this initiative has the potential to increase interest,” said Chris Cole, a director of transceiver engineering at Finisar, in a separate email exchange.
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