Analysis of the Current Coherent Optical Module Market

Researchers have made great progress in optical devices. The output power of laser, linewidth, stability and noise, as well as the bandwidth of photodetectors, power capacity and common mode rejection ratio have been greatly improved. Microwave electronic devices have also been greatly improved. Then, the coherent optical communication technology has gradually become an important capacity-lifting solution for the current 100G line-side.

Market Demand for Coherent Optical Communication

One of the biggest drivers of growth in the current communications market is the transition from 10G to 100G in the metro, core and Data Center Interconnect (DCI) sectors.

With the explosive growth of information generated by the use of communication technologies such as video conferencing and the spread of the Internet, the market has proposed higher transmission performance requirements for the physical layer that is the basis of the entire communication system.

OSNR: 16QAM vs. 64QAM

In terms of digital communication, how to expand the capacity of C-band amplifiers, overcome the deterioration of fiber dispersion effects, and increase the capacity and range of free-space transmission have become important considerations for researchers; in analog communication, sensitivity and dynamic range are key parameters of systems.

Driven by strong demand, large-scale DWDM systems are gradually depleting their wavelength resources, and the efficiency of Time-Division Multiplexing (TDM) systems through compressed optical pulses also has a large technical bottleneck. People began to consider replacing the original Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) system with a coherent optical communication system.

Advantages of Coherent Optical Modules

The coherent optical communication system modulates the signal to the optical carrier by adjusting the amplitude, phase and frequency by means of external light modulation (such as DP-QPSK) at the transmitting end.

Compared with the traditional direct detection system, coherent detection can obtain more signal information through the signal light and the beat frequency of the local oscillator; after the signal reaches the receiving end, it uses high-speed Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology to perform front-end processing such as equalization. The optical mixer and the optical signal generated by the local oscillator are coherently mixed to realize signal reconstruction and distortion compensation.

Baud rates: QPSK vs. DP-QPSK

Coherent optics can be used in both 100G and 400G applications, primarily because it enables service providers to send more data over existing fiber, reducing the cost and complexity of network upgrades for bandwidth expansion.

  1. Coherent detection combined with DSP technology:
    • Cleared barriers to traditional coherent reception
    • Compensate for various transmission impairments in the electrical domain, simplifying transmission links
    • Make high-order modulation formats and polarization states possible
  2. At the same time, the application of high-order modulation formats enables coherent optical communication to have higher single-wavelength channel spectrum utilization compared to traditional system systems.
    Coherent receivers have no special requirements for fiber channel, so coherent optical communication can use already laid fiber lines. With the aid of digital signal processing algorithms, coherent receivers compensate for signal distortion caused by fiber dispersion, polarization mode dispersion, and carrier phase noise at a very small cost.
  3. A coherent receiver is about 20 dB more sensitive than a normal receiver, so the distance that is not relayed in the transmission system becomes longer, which reduces the number of amplifications in the transmitted light path.

Based on the above reasons, coherent optical communication can reduce the cost of optical fiber erection for long-distance transmission, simplify optical path amplification and compensation design, and become the main application technology of current long-distance transmission network.

Application Scenarios of Coherent Optical Modules

At present, the coherent optical communication is mainly used on the line side of the backbone network and the metropolitan area network, and belongs to the technical research field of DWDM long-distance transmission. In the application scenarios of the metropolitan area network and the core network with distance more than 80km, the coherent optical communication features good performance of Optical Signal-to-Noise Ratio (OSNR), sensitivity, dispersion tolerance and so on.

Coherent Applications: DWDM Long-Haul Transmission

WDM System

The operating wavelength range is C-band (1530nm to 1565nm), and the fiber type is G.652D (prefered) or G.655. The key performance index is OSNR.

Error correction coding technology can jump out of the limitations of the physical layer of transmission, and compensate for all physical transmission impairments at the logic layer, especially the effects of nonlinear effects.

Coherent Applications

5G Middlehaul/Backhaul Network

In the 5G middlehaul scenario, 100G/200G DWDM system will be deployed, and the 100G CFP-DCO and 200G CFP2-DCO optical module can be used to implement the 80km scene application; the 400G DCO product is applied in the 5G backhaul scenario with distance less than 200km.

DCI

Whether the coherent communication will be used in the DCI field of 40km to 80km depends mainly depends on the commercial cost performance and whether the market capacity is large enough.

At the current 100G rate, products such as 100G ER with EML modulation are sufficient for the use; the 100G CFP-DCO ZR series will appear in the future.

Coherent Applications: Bandwidth by Speed

The OIF organization is developing a 400ZR specification that uses a combination of DWDM and coherent technology.

Andrew Schmitt, principal analyst at Cignal AI, said: “Coherent 400G will limit the development of existing 200G and 100G technologies by 2020, and new devices will maximize optical capacity without relying on coverage.” Foreseeable Yes, more and more 400ZR products will enter the market.

Summary

The coherent optical communication system is a more advanced and complex optical transmission system suitable for longer distance and larger capacity information transmission.

At present, coherent modules with the CFP form-factor are bulky and consume large power. Compact coherent modules will replace existing coherent products. The innovation of semiconductor technology and the improvement of chip technology will greatly promote the replacement of 400G coherent products.

In recent years, Gigalight, a global optical interconnect innovator, has increased its research and development of coherent modules and has achieved a series of achievements. In the next few years, it will strengthen cooperation with the industry and jointly promote the progress of related industries.

Source: Analysis of the Current Coherent Optical Module Market

The Technologies of Next-Generation Optical Transceivers — PAM4 and 64QAM

PAM4 and 64QAM Technologies

PAM4 and 64QAM Technologies

The shift to cloud services and virtualized networks has put the data center in the middle of our world and meant that connectivity within data centers and between data centers has a huge impact on the delivery of business and personal services. Hyperscale data centers are being installed across the world and these all need connecting. To meet this demand, optical transceiver suppliers are delivering new solutions based on PAM4 and 64QAM, providing coherent modulation that will drive down the cost of connectivity and increase the bandwidth of each connection.

Connections to many servers are already 25G and links between switches in large data centers are already 100G. The introduction of SFP28 and QSFP28 transceivers integrating new technologies and built using efficient manufacturing techniques has driven down the cost of these connections and allowed massive growth in the market. The next stage is the introduction of 100G single lambda solutions and cost-effective 400G transceivers for links between switches. The PHY devices needed for this next step are already becoming available, 12.8T switch devices are in production, and the first 400G QSFP-DD and OSFP optical transceivers are sampling.

QSFP-DD

The rise of the hyperscale data center operator has dramatically changed the market. The switch to 25G and 100G from 10G and 40G has happened very quickly. The sheer scale and numbers of data centers being installed or upgraded means that the new technologies can be shipped in volume as soon as the price is right, the components have been qualified, and the production lines are operational. We are now seeing the first 400G PHY devices and optical transceivers for data centers becoming available and companies are vying for market position as we wait for the leading hyperscale operators to commit to large deployments.

Many of those companies that have benefited from 25G and 100G are putting their investments into single lambda PAM4 100G and 400G solutions for the data center. This has required new PAM4 PHY devices designed to meet the power constraints of 400G OSFP and QSFP-DD transceivers. A few companies have also invested in 50G and 200G PAM4 PHYs, enabling a cost-effective upgrade from 25G and 100G. 50G SFP56 and 200G QSFP56 transceivers are expected to be interim solutions, but it is unclear how widespread their use will be or for how long. 40G was an interim solution that lasted for many years.

Coherent technology, originally developed for 100G long-haul networks, is now widely used for long-haul connections, including subsea, metro networks, and Data Center Interconnect (DCI) between data centers. The market for DCI has grown rapidly, with many systems vendors offering solutions with 80km to 500km reach. For long-haul and metro applications, several leading equipment manufacturers continue to use in-house coherent Digital Signal Processor (DSP) designs. Coherent DSP solution is now available to optical transceiver vendors such as Gigalight that is going to ship 400G transceivers based on this design. The latest DSP ASICs are enabling 600G (64Gbaud 64QAM) solutions and CFP2-DCO transceivers. The next step is the introduction of the 7nm DSPs that will enable the cost-effective 400G ZR transceivers planned for 400G links up to 100km starting in 2020.

This continues to be a market in flux. Lumentum has completed the acquisition of Oclaro, Cisco has completed the acquisition of Luxtera, and several Chinese optical transceiver vendors have joined the charge to 400G in the data center. The PAM4 PHY devices required for 100G single lambda and 400G in the data center are proving to be very challenging to deliver. PAM4 PHY solutions in 28nm and 14/16nm technology have been sampling for more than six months and these are now being joined by 7nm solutions.

Related articles: PAM4 — The High-Speed Signal Interconnection Technology of Next-Generation Data Center

PAM4 — The High-Speed Signal Interconnection Technology of Next-Generation Data Center

What Is PAM4?

PAM4 (4-Level Pulse Amplitude Modulation) is one of PAM modulation technologies that uses 4 different signal levels for signal transmission. Each symbol period can represent 2 bits of logic information (0, 1, 2, 3), that is, four levels per unit time.

In the data center and short-distance optical fiber transmission, the modulation scheme of NRZ is still adopted, that is, the high and low signal levels are used to represent the (1, 0) information of the digital logic signal to be transmitted, and one bit of logical information can be transmitted per signal symbol period.

However, as the transmission rate evolves from 28Gb/s to a higher rate, the electrical signal transmission on the backplane will cause more severe loss to the high-frequency signal, and higher-order modulation can transmit more data in the same signal bandwidth. Therefore, the industry is increasingly calling for higher-order PAM4 modulation. The PAM4 signal uses four different signal levels for signal transmission, and each symbol period can represent 2 bits of logical information (0, 1, 2, 3). Since the PAM4 signal can transmit 2 bits of information per symbol period, to achieve the same signal transmission capability, the symbol rate of the PAM4 signal only needs to reach half of the NRZ signal, so the loss caused by the transmission channel is greatly reduced. With the development of future technologies, the possibility of using more levels of PAM8 or even PAM16 signals for information transmission is not ruled out.

NRZ vs. PAM4: The comparison of waveforms and eye diagrams between NRZ and PAM4 signals

And then, if the optical signal can also be transmitted by using the PAM4, the clock recovery and pre-emphasized PAM4 signal can be directly realized when the electro-optical transmitting is performed inside the optical module, therefore, the unnecessary step of converting the PAM4 signal into the NRZ signal of 2 times the baud rate and then performing related processing is eliminated, thereby saving the chip design cost.

Why PAM4?

The end-to-end transmission system includes fiber optic and fiber-optic transmission systems. Since the fiber transmission can easily reach the rate of 25Gbd so that the research progress of transmitting PAM4 on the fiber has been progressing slowly. For fiber-optic transmission systems, from NRZ moving to PAM4 is considered in terms of cost. If you do not need to consider the cost, there are other related modulation technologies can be used in the long-distance range, such as DP-QPSK, which can transmit the baud rate signal above 50Gbd for several thousand kilometers. However, in the data center field, the transmission distance is generally only 10km or less. If the optical transceiver using PAM4 technology is adopted, the cost can be greatly reduced.

For 400GE, the largest cost is expected to be optical components and related RF packages. PAM4 technology uses four different signal levels for signal transmission. It can transmit 2 bits of logic information per clock cycle and double the transmission bandwidth, thus effectively reducing transmission costs. For example, 50GE is based on a single 25G optical device, and the bandwidth is doubled through the electrical layer PAM4 technology, which effectively solves the problem of high cost while satisfying the bandwidth improvement. The 200GE/400GE adopts 4/8 channel 25G devices, and the bandwidth can be doubled by PAM4 technology.

For data center applications, reducing the application of the device can significantly reduce costs. The initial goal of adopting higher order modulation formats is to place more complex parts on the circuit side to reduce the optical performance requirements. The use of high-order modulation formats is an effective way to reduce the number of optics used, reduce the performance requirements of optics, and achieve a balance between performance, cost, power, and density in different applications.

In some application scenarios, high-order modulation formats have been used for several years on the line side. However, since the client side needs are different from the line side, so other considerations are needed.

For example, on the client side, the main consideration is the test cost, power consumption and density. On the line side, spectrum efficiency and performance are mainly considered, and cost reduction is not the most important consideration. By using linear components on the client side and the PAM4 modulation format that is directly detected, companies can greatly reduce test complexity and thus reduce costs. Among all high-order modulation formats, the lowest cost implementation is PAM4 modulation with a spectral efficiency of 2 bits/s/Hz.

PAM4

Conclusion

As a popular signal transmission technology for high-speed signal interconnection in next-generation data centers, PAM4 signals are widely used for electrical and optical signal transmission on 200G/400G interfaces. Gigalight has a first-class R&D team in the industry and has overcome the signal integrity design challenges of PAM4 modulation. Gigalight’s 200G/400G PAM4 products include 200G QSFP56 SR4, 200G QSFP56 AOC, 200G QSFP56 FR4, 400G QSFP56-DD SR8, 400G QSFP56-DD AOC, etc.

All of the PAM4 products from Gigalight can be divided into digital PAM4 products and analog PAM4 products. The digital PAM4 products adopt DSP solutions which can support a variety of complex and efficient modulation schemes. The electric port has strong adaptability and good photoelectric performance. And the analog PAM4 products simulate CDR with low power consumption and low cost. Gigalight always adheres to the concept of innovation, innovative technology, and overcomes difficulties. It invests a lot of human resources and material resources in the research and development of next-generation data center products.

Originally published at morph.tilda.ws

50G PAM4-based Optical Transceiver Technologies

With the PAM4 encoding technology, the amount of information transmitted on 50G PAM4-based optical transceivers within each sampling cycle doubles. A 25G optical component can be used to achieve a 50Gbps transmission rate, reducing the costs of optical transceivers.

50G PAM4 applies to multiple scenarios, such as single-lane 50GE PAM4 optical transceivers, 4-lane 200GE optical transceivers, and 8-lane 400GE optical transceivers.

Functions

This section introduces the functions of a single-lane 50GE PAM4 optical transceiver.

Working principle of a 50GE PAM4 optical transceiver

Working principle of a 50GE PAM4 optical transceiver

The working principle of a 50GE PAM4 optical transceiver is described as follows:

    • In the transmit direction, the PAM4 encoding chip aggregates two 25Gbit/s NRZ signals into one 25GBaud PAM4 signal. The laser drive chip amplifies the PAM4 signal, and the 25Gbps laser converts the electrical signal into a 25GBaud(50Gbps) single-wavelength optical signal.
    • In the receive direction, the detector converts the 25GBaud single-wavelength optical signal into an electric signal. The electric signal is shaped and amplified, and then output to the PAM4 decoding chip. The PAM4 decoding chip converts the signal into two 25Gbps NRZ signals.

The 50GE PAM4 optical transceiver uses the QSFP28 encapsulation mode, LC optical interfaces, and single-mode optical fibers. The transmission distance is 10km or 40km, and the maximum power consumption is 4.5W.

Specifications

The performance of transmitters and receivers on optical interfaces of 50GE PAM4 optical transceivers must comply with the IEEE 802.3bs and IEEE 802.3cd standards.

An optical transceiver provides N 25Gbps electrical interfaces. For a 50GE optical transceiver, the two electrical lanes transmit TX1/RX1 and TX2/RX2 signals specified in the SFF-8436_MSA standards. The performance of electrical interfaces must comply with the CEI-28G-VSR LAUI-2 standard.

The optical transceiver with a transmission rate of 50Gbps on a single wavelength supports 50GE, 200GE, and 400GE interfaces. The following table lists the parameters for the 50GE, 200GE, and 400GE technical solutions.

The parameters for the 50GE, 200GE, and 400GE technical solutions

Technical Solutions

Optical Component and Drive Chip

50G PAM4 optical transceivers use mature 25Gbps optoelectronic chips to deliver cost-effective solutions. In 50GBASE-LR 10 km scenarios, uncooled Direct Modulated Laser (DML) Transmitter Optical Sub-Assemblies (TOSAs) with TO packaging are used. Such a solution features mature technologies, low costs, low power consumption, and easy mass production. The linear DML driver chip can convert input PAM4 voltage electric signals into current signals that can directly drive lasers. Such chips deliver a high bandwidth and output large drive current. Their maximum working rate can reach 28GBaud. At the receive end, Receiver Optical Sub-Assemblies (ROSAs) with TO packaging are used. 25Gbps pins and linear Trans-Impedance Amplifier (TIA) chips are integrated to the ROSAs.

Optical components in 50GBASE-LR scenarios

Optical components in 50GBASE-LR scenarios

In 50GBASE-ER 40 km scenarios, 25Gbps Electro-absorption Modulated Laser (EML) TOSAs with BOX packaging are used. External cavity modulated Distribution Feed-Back (DFB) lasers, isolators, monitoring diodes, thermistors, and EML components are integrated to the TOSAs and driven by voltage signals. Such a solution features wide linear domains, high ER, high output optical power, and low TDECQ. Linear EML drive chips can amplify input PAM4 signals and output them to next EMLs. These chips provide a high bandwidth, a small jitter, an adjustable output gain, and a working rate up to 28GBaud. At the receive end, APD ROSAs with TO packaging are used. 25Gbps APDs and linear TIA chips are integrated into the ROSAs. Such ROSAs feature high sensitivity and apply to 40km long-distance transmission.

Optical components in 50GBASE-ER scenarios

Optical components in 50GBASE-ER scenarios

PAM4 Chip

PAM4 codec chips perform conversion between NRZ signals and PAM4 signals inside transceivers. In the transmit direction, PAM4 chips shape, amplify, and convert two 25Gbps NRZ signals output by boards into one 25GBaud PAM4 signal. In the receive direction, PAM4 chips use the Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) and Digital Signal Processing (DSP) technology to decode the one 25GBaud signal to two 25Gbps NRZ signals.

Differences Between Solutions of NRZ and PAM4 Transceivers

The optical components and chips of PAM4 transceivers are very different from those of NRZ transceivers. The following table lists the differences between 50G QSFP28 LR and 25G SFP28 LR.

The differences between 50G QSFP28 LR and 25G SFP28 LR

The main difference lies in laser drive chips, TIA chips, and data processing chips.

  • Since PAM4 code has four types of level logic, the laser drive chips and TIA chips are capable of linear outputs. NRZ transceivers output signals in amplitude limiting mode.
  • PAM4 transceivers use DSP to implement conversion between a 50G PAM4 signal and two 25Gbps NRZ signals. NRZ transceivers transmit data using Clock & Data Recovery (CDR) chips only.

Originally article: https://www.gigalight.com/show-1137.html

Which Is Better for 80km Links? PAM4 or Coherent Technology

A significant portion of Data Center Interconnections (DCIs) and telecom router-to-router interconnections rely on simple ZR or 80km transceivers. The former is mostly based on 100Gbps per 100GHz ITU-T window C-band DWDM transceivers, while the latter is mostly 10G or 100G grey wavelength transceivers. In DWDM links, the laser wavelength is fixed to a specified grid, so that with DWDM Mux and Demux 80 or more wavelength channels can be transported through a single fiber. Grey wavelengths are not fixed to a grid and can be anywhere in the C-Band, limiting capacity to one channel per fiber. DCI links tend to use DWDM because they have to utilize the optical fiber bandwidth as much as possible due to the extremely high-volume traffic between data centers.

Another emerging 80km market is the Multi-System Operator (MSO) or the CATV optical access networks. This need emerges because MSOs are running out of their access optical fibers and they need a transmission technology which would allow them to grow to a very large capacity by using the remaining fibers. For this reason they need to use DWDM wavelengths to pack more channels in a single fiber.

The majority of the 10G transceivers on 80km links will be replaced by 100G or 400G transceivers in the coming years. For that to happen, there are two modulation techniques to enable 80km 100G transceivers.

  • 50G PAM4 with two wavelengths in a 100G transceiver
  • Coherent 100G dual-polarization Quadrature Phase Shifted Keying (DP-QPSK)

Generally speaking, PAM4 is a low-cost solution but require active optical dispersion compensation (which could be a big headache as well as extra expense to data center operators) and extra optical amplification to compensate for the dispersion compensators. By contrast, Coherent approaches do not need any dispersion compensation and the price is coming down rapidly, especially when the same hardware can be configured to upgrade the transmission data rate per wavelength from 100G to 200G (by using DP-16QAM modulation).

When 400G per wavelength is needed in a DCI network within a 100GHz ITU-T window, coherent technology is the only cost-effective solution, because it will not be feasible for PAM4 to achieve the same high spectral efficiency of 4 bit/sec/Hz.

On the standards front, many standards organizations are adopting coherent technology for 80km transmission. The Optical Inter-networking Forum (OIF) will adopt coherent DP-16QAM modulation at up to 60Gbaud (400G per wavelength) in an implementation agreement on 400G ZR. This is initially for DCI applications with a transmission distance of more than 80km, and vendors may come up with various derivatives for longer transmission distances. Separately, CableLabs has published a specification document for 100G DP-QPSK coherent transmission over a distance of 80km aimed at MSO applications. In addition, IEEE802.3ct is in the process of adopting coherent technologies for 100G and 400G per wavelength transmissions over 80km.

As data rates increase from 100G to 400G and capacity requirements per fiber are driven by DCI needs, and assisted by volume driven cost reductions in coherent optics and in coherent DSPs, we expect coherent transmission to be the technology of choice for 80km links.

The Popular 100G High-speed Optical Transceivers of Data Center in 2018

Since 2018, 100G high-speed optical transceivers have been deployed in large-scale data centers. The 100G QSFP28 series products are favored in large data center network architectures such as Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.

The 100G QSFP28 PSM4, 100G QSFP28 CWDM4, 100G QSFP28 LR4 optical transceiver is widely used in the construction of data center networks. It has won a large market share compared to other 100G optical transceivers. It can be said that it is a popular product in 100G high-speed optical transceivers. In general, if a product can be recognized by the market and widely used, the technical advantage must be the important reason.

Gigalight 100G PSM4, 100G CWDM4, 100G LR4 are using for data center. These products use technologies such as COB, WDM, mini TO and so on, which greatly reduced the cost, can save money for high-volume optical transceivers in the data center.


100G PSM4

100G CWDM4

100G LR4

Automated Production and Chip-On-Board(COB) Packaging Technology

The chip-on-board package technology is an illuminant in which multiple of LED chips are integrally packaged on the same substrate.

Gigalight 100G QSFP28 PSM4, 100G QSFP28 CWDM4, 100G QSFP28 LR4 optical transceivers use automated production line and COB technology, greatly reducing cost and product power consumption.

WDM technology

In addition to COB technology, Gigalight 100G QSFP28 CWDM4 and 100G QSFP28 LR4 optical transceivers all introduce WDM technology. In optical transmission networks, WDM technology is considered to be an effective means to expand the transmission capacity of existing optical networks. It can increase the optical signal transmission capacity of existing optical fibers in the most cost-effective way, thus quickly meeting the increasing high bandwidth requirements of people. The most direct impact on life is that we go online, watch TV, make calls faster and more smoothly.

Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) is a Multiplexer (Mux) that multiplexes optical carrier signals of different WDM wavelengths onto a single fiber for transmission at the transmitting end, and then uses a Demultiplexer(Demux) at the receiving end to transmit each the WDM wavelength separation technology, each WDM wavelength signal is independent of each other and is not affected by any transmission protocol and rate.

In addition, WDM technology enables bidirectional transmission of optical signals over a single fiber. This technology virtualizes one fiber into multiple fibers, which not only simplifies the structure of the optical transmission network, but also greatly saves fiber resources, thereby reducing the deployment cost of the optical network.

Using Mini TO Technology

Gigalight uses homemade Mini TO to effectively reduce costs and improve product reliability.

Conclusion

Through long-term technical accumulation, Gigalight self-developing optical devices, homemade TOSA/ROSA, gradually formed its own transmitting and receiving device packaging technology platform. The transmitter adopts the self-made mini TO plus AWG chip, and the receiving end adopts the COB packaging process, which greatly optimizes the product cost. In 2019, 100G optical transceivers will still occupy a mainstream position in data center deployment. In the new year, Gigalight will continue to optimize its production technology and will provide more high-quality 100G high-speed optical interconnect products for data centers.

Source: https://medium.com/@Gigalight/the-popular-100g-high-speed-optical-transceivers-of-data-center-in-2018-4993baeec2fb

What is Data Center Interconnect/Interconnection?

Data Center Interconnection means the implements of Data center Interconnect (DCI) technology. With the DCI technology advances, better and cheaper options have become available and this has created a lot of confusion. This is compounded by the fact that a lot of companies are trying to enter this market because there is a lot of money to be made. This article is written to straighten out some of the confusion.

According to the different applications, there are two parts of data center interconnections. The first is intra-Data Center Interconnect (intra-DCI) which means connections within the data center. It can be within one building or between data center buildings on a campus. Connections can be a few meters up to 10km. The second is inter-Data Center Interconnect (inter-DCI) which means connections between data centers from 10km up to 80km. Of course, connections can be much longer but most of the market activity for inter-DCI is focused on 10km to 80km. Longer connections are considered Metro or Long-haul. For reference, please see the table below.

DCI Distance Fiber Type Optics Technology Optical Transceivers
intra-DCI 300m MMF NRZ/PAM4 QSFP28 SR4
500m SMF QSFP28 PSM4
2km QSFP28 CWDM4
10km QSFP28 LR4
inter-DCI 10km SMF Cohernet QSFP28 4WDM-10
20km QSFP28 4WDM-20
30km to 40km QSFP28 4WDM-40
80km to 2000km CFP2-ACO

Intra-DCI

The big bottlenecks are in the intra-DCI and therefore, the highest volume of optical transceivers are sold here generating the most revenue, however, it is low margin revenue because there is so much competition. In this space, may of the connections are less than 300m and Multi-Mode Fiber (MMF) is frequently used. MMF is thicker, and components are cheaper because the tolerances are not as tight, but the light disperses as it bounces around in the thick cable. Therefore, 300m is the limit for many types of high speed transmission that use MMF. There is a data center transceiver with a transmission distance up to 100m over OM4 MMF for example.

Gigalight 100GBASE-SR4 100m QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 SR4 for MMF up to 100m

In a data center, everything is connected to servers by routers and switches. Sometimes a data center can be one large building bigger than a football field and other times data centers are built on a campus of many buildings spanning many blocks. In the case of a campus, the fiber is brought to one hub and the connections are made there. Even if the building you want to connect to might be 200m away, the fiber runs to a hub, which can be more than 1km away, so this type of routing increases the fiber distance. Some of the distances between buildings can be 4km, requiring Single Mode Fiber (SMF), which has a much narrower core, making it more efficient, but also increasing the cost of all related components because the tolerances are tighter. Therefore, with data centers growing, so has the need for SMF as the connections get longer within the data center. With SMF you have the option to drive high bandwidth with coherent technology, and we’ll see more of this in the future. Previously coherent was only used for longer distances, but with cost reductions and greater efficiency versus other solutions, coherent is now being used for shorter reaches in the data center.

Gigalight 100GBASE-LR4 Lite 4km QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 LR4L for SMF up to 4km

500m is a new emerging market and because the distance is shorter, a new technology is emerging, and that is silicon photonics modulators. EMLs (Externally Modulated Lasers) perform modulation within the laser, but with silicon photonics, the modulator is outside the laser and it’s a good solutions for distances of 500m. In an EML, the modulator is integrated into the same chip, but is outside the laser cavity, and hence is “external”. For silicon photonics, the laser and modulator are on different chips and usually in different packages. Silicon photonics modulators are based on the CMOS manufacturing process that is high scale and low cost. A continuous wave laser with silicon photonic modulation is very good for 500m applications. EMLs are more suitable for longer reaches, such as 2-10km. Therefore, with data centers growing, so has the need for single mode fiber as the connections get longer within the data center. With SMF you have the option to drive high bandwidth with coherent technology, and we’ll see more of this in the future. Previously coherent was only used for longer distances, but with cost reductions and greater efficiency versus other solutions, coherent is now being used for shorter reaches in the data center.

100GE PSM4 2km QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 PSM4 for SMF up to 500m/2km

100GE CWDM4 2km QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 CWDM4 for SMF up to 2km

100GBASE-LR4 10km QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 LR4 for SMF up to 10km

Inter-DCI

Inter-DCI is typically between 10km and 80km, including 20km and 40km. Before we talk about data center connectivity, let’s talk about why data centers are set up the way they are and why 80km is such an important connection distance. While it is true that a data center in New York might backup to tape in a data center in Oregon, this is considered regular long-haul traffic. Some data centers are geographically situated to serve an entire continent and others are focused on a specific metro area. Currently, the throughput bottleneck is in the metro and this is where data centers and connectivity are most needed.

100GE 4WDM-20 20km QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 4WDM-20 for SMF up to 20km

100GE 4WDM-40 40km QSFP28 Optical Transceiver

100G QSFP28 4WDM-40 for SMF up to 40km

Say you have a Fortune 100 retailer and they are running thousands of transactions per second. The farther away a data center is, the more the data is secure because the data center is so far away and separate from natural disasters, but with the increased distance there are more “in flight” transactions are at risk of being lost due to latency. Therefore, for online transactions there might be a primary data center that is central to retail locations and a secondary data center that is around 80km away. It’s far enough away not to be affected by local power outages, tornadoes, etc, but close enough that there is only a few hundred milli-seconds of latency; therefore, in the worst case a small number of transactions would be at risk.

In another example of inter-DCI, as if a certain video is getting a lot of views, the video is not only kept in its central location, but copies of the video are pushed to metro data centers where access is quicker because it’s stored closer to the user, and the traffic doesn’t tie up long haul networks. Metro data centers can grow to a certain size until their sheer size becomes a liability with no additional scale advantage and thus they are broken up into clusters. Once again, to guard against natural disasters and power outages, data centers should be far away. Counterbalancing this, data centers need to have low latency communication between them, so they shouldn’t be too far away. There is a compromise and the magic distance is 80km for a secondary data center, so you’ll hear about 80km data center interconnect a lot.

It used to be that on-off keying could provide sufficient bandwidth between data centers, but now with 4K video and metro bottlenecks, coherent transmission is being used for shorter and shorter distances. Coherent is likely to take over the 10km DCI market. It has already taken over the 80km market but it might take time before coherent comes to 2km. The typical data center bottlenecks are 500m, 2km, and 80km. As coherent moves to shorter distances, this is where the confusion comes.

The optical transceiver modules that were only used within the data center are gaining reach, and they’re running up against coherent solutions that were formerly only used for long distances. Due to the increasing bandwidth and decreasing cost, coherent is being pulled closer into the data center.

The other thing to think about is installing fiber between data centers. Hopefully this is already done, because once you dig, it’s a fixed cost, so you put down as many fibers as you can. Digging just for installing fiber is extremely expensive. In France when they lay fiber, they use another economic driver. Whenever you put in train tracks, you put in fiber at the same time, even if it is not needed. It’s almost for free because they are digging anyway. Fibers are leased to data centers one at a time; therefore, data centers try to get as much bandwidth as possible onto each fiber (this is also a major theme in the industry). You might ask, why not own your own fiber? You need to have a lot of content to own your own fiber. The cost is prohibitive. In order to make the fiber network function, all the nodes need to use the same specification and this is hard. Therefore, carriers are usually the ones to install the full infrastructure.

Article Source: John Houghton, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, technology innovator, and head of MobileCast Media.