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Optical Breakthroughs Eyed for Storage

IBM, Hitachi, and others are designing optical solutions for future storage gear

IBM and Hitachi were among vendors this week pushing optical wares at the OFC/NFOEC 2008 event in San Diego, and both are touting research they claim will affect the future of storage networking gear.

IBM, for instance, unveiled a "green optical link" developed at Big Blue's Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. Comprised of new optical modules and a data bus put together with standard components for a prototype, the "Optocard" offers up to 160 Gbit/s bandwidth (both transmit and receive on a total of 32 channels at 10 Gbit/s) at distances up to 100 meters. IBM says it consumes about as much power as a 100-watt lightbulb.

The optical transceiver portion of the link includes 24 transmitters and 24 receivers, each operating at 12.5 Gbit/s. Researchers have the modules with low-power 850 nm vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) and CMOS chips.

The optical data bus is made by laying polymer on top of electrical wiring to produce an optical channel. This channel can furnish much higher bandwidth between components on a circuit board (or between devices in a data center) than electrical channels do -- while consuming roughly 100 times less power.

IBM envisions this optical solution as a mechanism for file transfer, since it features a rate of 8 Tbit/s -- enough to run about 5,000 high-definition video streams, according to IBM. Applications would include video servers, consumer electronics, supercomputers, and medical archiving.

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