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Meeting the many needs of data centre interconnect

High capacity. Density. Power efficiency. Client-side optical interface choices. Coherent transmission. Direct detection. Open line system. Just some of the requirements vendors must offer to compete in the data centre interconnect market.

“A key lesson learned from all our interactions over the years is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Jörg-Peter Elbers, senior vice president of advanced technology, standards and IPR at ADVA Optical Networking. “What is important is that you have a portfolio to give customers what they need.”

 Jörg-Peter Elbers


ADVA Optical Networking detailed its Teraflex, the latest addition to its CloudConnect family of data centre interconnect products, at the OFC show held in Los Angeles in March (see video).

The platform is designed to meet the demanding needs of the large-scale data centre operators that want high-capacity, compact platforms that are also power efficient. 


A key lesson learned from all our interactions over the years is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution


Teraflex is a one-rack-unit (1RU) stackable chassis that supports three hot-pluggable 1.2-terabit modules or ‘sleds’. A sled supports two line-side wavelengths, each capable of coherent transmission at up to 600 gigabits-per-second (Gbps). Each sled’s front panel supports various client-side interface module options: 12 x 100-gigabit QSFPs, 3 x 400-gigabit QSFP-DDs and lower speed 10-gigabit and 40-gigabit modules using ADVA Optical Networking’s MicroMux technology.

“Building a product optimised only for 400-gigabit would not hit the market with the right feature set,” says Elbers. “We need to give customers the possibility to address all the different scenarios in one competitive platform.”   

The Teraflex achieves 600Gbps wavelengths using a 64-gigabaud symbol rate and 64-ary quadrature-amplitude modulation (64-QAM). ADVA Optical Networking is using Acacia’s Communications latest Pico dual-core coherent digital signal processor (DSP) to implement the 600-gigabit wavelengths. ADVA Optical Networking would not confirm Acacia is its supplier but Acacia decided to detail the Pico DSP at OFC because it wanted to end speculation as to the source of the coherent DSP for the Teraflex. That said, ADVA Optical Networking points out that Teraflex’s modular nature means coherent DSPs from various suppliers can be used.


The 1 rack unit Teraflex

The line-side optics supports a variety of line speeds – from 600Gbps to 100Gbps, the lower the speed, the longer the reach.

The resulting 3-sled 1RU Teraflex platform thus supports up to 3.6 terabits-per-second (Tbps) of duplex communications. This compares to a maximum 800Gbps per rack unit using the current densest CloudConnect 0.5RU Quadflex card.                                     


The data centre interconnect market is commonly split into metro and long haul.

The metro data centre interconnect market requires high-capacity, short-haul, point-to-point links up to 80km. Large-scale data centre operators may have several sites spread across a city, given they must pick locations where they can find them. Sites are typically no further apart than 80km to ensure a low-enough latency such that, collectively, they appear as one large logical data centre.

“You are extending the fabric inside the data centre across the data-centre boundary, which means the whole bandwidth you have on the fabric needs to be fed across the fibre link,” says Elbers. “If not, then there are bottlenecks and you are restricted in the flexibility you have.”  

Large enterprises also use metro data centre interconnect. The enterprises’ businesses involve processing customer data - airline bookings, for example - and they cannot afford disruption. As a result, they may use twin data centres to ensure business continuity.

Here, too, latency is an issue especially if synchronous mirroring of data using Fibre Channel takes place between sites. The storage protocol requires acknowledgement between the end points such that the round-trip time over the fibre is critical. “The average distance of these connections is 40km, and no one wants to go beyond 80 or 100km,” says Elbers, who stresses that this is not an application for Teraflex given it is aimed at massive Ethernet transport. Customers using Fibre Channel typically need lower capacities and use more tailored solutions for the application.

The second data centre interconnect market - long haul - has different requirements. The links are long distance and the data sent between sites is limited to what is needed. Data centres are distributed to ensure continual business operation and for quality-of-experience by delivering services closer to customers.

Hundreds of gigabits and even terabits are sent over the long-distance links between data centres sites but commonly it is about a tenth of the data sent for metro data centre interconnect, says Elbers.  


Direct Detection

Given the variety of customer requirements, ADVA Optical Networking is pursuing direct-detection line-side interfaces as well as coherent-based transmission.

At OFC, the system vendor detailed work with two proponents of line-side direct-detection technology - Inphi and Ranovus - as well as its coherent-based Teraflex announcement.

Working with Microsoft, Arista and Inphi, ADVA detailed a metro data centre interconnect demonstration that involved sending 4Tbps of data over an 80km link. The link comprised 40 Inphi ColorZ QSFP modules. A ColorZ module uses two wavelengths, each carrying 56Gbps using PAM-4 signalling. This is where having an open line system is important.

Microsoft wanted to use QSFPs directly in their switches rather than deploy additional transponders, says Elbers. But this still requires line amplification while the data centre operators want the same straightforward provisioning they expect with coherent technology. To this aim, ADVA demonstrated its SmartAmp technology that not only sets up the power levels of the wavelengths and provides optical amplification but also automatically measures and compensates for chromatic dispersion experienced over a link.  

ADVA also detailed a 400Gbps metro transponder card based on PAM-4 implemented using two 200Gbps transmitter optical subassemblies (TOSAs) and two 200Gbps receiver optical subassemblies (ROSAs) from Ranovus.      


Clearly there is also space for a direct-detection solution but that space will narrow down over time



The decision to use coherent or direct detection line-side optics boils down to a link’s requirements and the cost an end user is willing to pay, says Elbers.

As coherent-based optics has matured, it has migrated from long-haul to metro and now data centre interconnect. One way to cost-reduce coherent further is to cram more bits per transmission. “Teraflex is adding chunks of 1.2Tbps per sled which is great for people with very high capacities,” says Elbers, but small enterprises, for example, may only need a 100-gigabit link.

“For scenarios where you don’t need to have the highest spectral efficiency and the highest fibre capacity, you can get more cost-effective solutions,” says Elbers, explaining the system vendor’s interest in direct detection.

“We are seeing coherent penetrating more and more markets but still cost and power consumption are issues,” says Elbers. “Clearly there is also space for a direct-detection solution but that space will narrow down over time.”

Developments in silicon photonics that promise to reduce the cost of optics through greater integration and the adoption of packaging techniques from the CMOS industry will all help. “We are not there yet; this will require a couple of technology iterations,” says Elbers.

Until then, ADVA’s goal is for direct detection to cost half that of coherent.

“We want to have two technologies for the different areas; there needs to be a business justification [for using direct detection],” he says. “Having differentiated pricing between the two - coherent and direct detection - is clearly one element here.”   

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