Two years ago, Intel went quiet about its work on integrated silicon photonics. It decided to set up the research group as a standalone business unit with its own profit and loss statement, funded as a venture company operating inside Intel.
Today it announced it is shipping engineering samples of a 100G module along with a connector developed with Corning. No details on the exact cost or power consumption of the device are available, but Intel said they will come with a formal launch, probably within months.
Meanwhile, Intel is developing specs for using the interconnect on CPU boards, memory boards and network cards. It is also developing design guides for using the module.
The chips are built in Intel’s production fabs and tested in its Santa Clara, Calif. facility. They consume less than half the energy of the best 40G devices out today, said Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner (above) in an interview with EE Times
“We think the total available market for this optical PHY is north of a billion dollars in a few years,” Rattner said. “If it’s embraced widely by mega data centers it could be huge,” he added.
The effort marks the first time Intel created an internal venture backed business from its research group. As of the second funding review, its business plan was already improving with more customers, lower product costs and better availability that projected when the unit was started two years ago, he added.
The module supports standard 100G Ethernet lengths of 100 meters. Some customers have asked for versions supporting kilometers but so far Intel's focus is on the market for links inside and between racks inside a data center.
Intel also has “a road map for [CPU] integration but right now we are focused on use in racks,” said Jason Waxman, general manager of Intel’s data center group.
“There’s an interesting opportunity to streamline the protocols a bit” with this technology, Rattner said. “IP routing is designed to be robust in the face of failure, but you don’t need that robustness in the data center,” he added.