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Fujitsu & Intel Make First Optical PCIe Based Server

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

On November 5th, at its annual Fujitsu Forum, Fujitsu announced that it had demonstrated the world's first Intel Optical PCI Express (OPCIe) based server.  

Fujitsu and Intel have been collaborating on a project to replace copper with optics inside the computer and in the data center.  The benefits, besides faster data transfer and increased bandwidth, would be lighter weight, less heat generation, and less consumption of energy.  For data centers struggling with space, cooling, and power consumption concerns, any technological advance that helps in these areas is welcome.

A significant issue with current optical technologies is cost. Optical devices are expensive to manufacturer due to the materials required and manufacturing processes involved. That's where Intel comes in.  Intel has been experimenting with using a common material -- silicon, to create a less expensive optical solution called Intel Silicon Photonics (SiPh).  

Intel uses the term Photonic to differentiate itself from the more common use of the term optics and has been working on SiPh technology for more than 10 years.   The advantage to SiPh over traditional optics is primarily cost. Yet, it is still more expensive than copper wire so it won't replace Ethernet for general use but it could provide some cost benefits in relieving some density issues in data centers.

In the demonstration by Fujitsu, the company connected two Intel Optical PCI Express (OPCIe) based Primergy RX200 servers to an external expansion box containing 2 Intel Xeon Phi co-processors, 2 100G Intel Silicon Photonic modules, 2 Intel Optical PCI Express Gasket ICs, 2 PCI Express Switches, 1 Raid Controller, and 2 SSD's.  

Fujitsu also added an Intel field programmable gate array (FPGA) into each of the Primergy RX200 servers to perform needed signal conditioning to make the PCI Express operate properly with the optic signals.  Using Intel's SiPh, Fujitsu was able to send PCI Express protocol optically through an MXC connector (Intel's optical connector) to the expansion box.

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Bill Oliver has been working in Healthcare for the past 30+ years in a variety of management roles including Material Management, Purchasing, Nurse Registry, and IT. In the past 12 years his focus has been on the business end of IT Contracts, Software Licensing and Purchasing.

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The demonstration showed one solution to the space density, cooling, and power consumption issue in today's servers, and that is to place storage and compute components outside of the server but still make it appear to the CPU that those components are attached to the CPU's motherboard.

Although Intel is working towards taking this technology out of the labs and into commercial production, it still may take some time getting its MXC standards adopted. MXC will also need to prove itself to be at least as reliable as existing optical technologies in order to gain widespread commercial acceptance.  

Although it may still be a few years before MXC makes it into the data center, it still makes this technology one to watch as the battle between copper and optics heats up in an effort to cool down the data center.

[Intel Image Credit]