By YUVAL BACHAR, principal engineer, global infrastructure architecture and strategy, LinkedIn -- This is a story about innovation, leadership, and technology. It is not a technology deep dive or sophisticated market analysis. It's just a personal story about an industry-impacting experience shared in two year retrospect and forward-looking to many optical technology innovation years to come.
It all started in late 2013 when the data center operational team came to us and said "the glass (fiber) in the wall is just too expensive", that was when we ran massive parallel MM (multimode) fiber bundles. A group of networking hardware engineers, data center network engineers, and program managers sat down and brainstormed on how to solve this for the next generation 100G data center deployments. At the same time, I was invited to give a talk at OFC 2014 about the future of data centers interconnect and the special optical modules requirements for the mega-data centers. It was all about thinking out of the box: drive SM (single mode) for short distances, enable WDM based duplex solution for data centers, enable special requirements for data center, and drive the right price point to support the 100G data center evolution.
OFC 2014 was the right place and time to talk about this; I put $1/1G for SM 500m data center rated modules requirements on my slides, knowing it would be either a complete game changer or dismissed. The responses to my presentation were mixed; the established optical modules suppliers said, "No way! We cannot do that"; at the time the price per 100G modules over SM were $2500 per module. The emerging technology optical module suppliers replied with, "This is difficult but we will try and target this. Maybe at 200G/400G that can be a reality."
Just putting the numbers in front of the optical modules suppliers and the industry saying that "the data center is the future of optical modules revenue and growth" started this amazing phenomena that the industry did not see for two decades, the development of data center cost effective 100G+ optical modules, unit price 10x drop in 2 years, changing business models, and refocusing the optical industry on data centers. It was a game changer.
Where are we now?
After almost two years and having the $1/1G as a highlight of OFC 2015 and many other events, there is a slew of design teams across all the optical technology companies, established and emerging, working to make $1/1G a reality. It is very clear that $1/1G for 100G is not going to be materialized soon, which was a possibility we assumed from day one, but we are close enough to have the target reached with generation 2 and 3 of the 100G modules and with the 200G, 400G, or 1T modules of the future.
What did I take from the experience?
In a blend between technology and business, you always need to think out of the box, challenge the status quo, drive innovation, and dare to try. If you are driving reasonable goals, no matter how aggressive it seems, you can create change and drive success across the industry. I also want to thank the early 2014 team that believed in the goal and path to make the data center 100G optics a reality. Jimmy Williams, Samar Dalal, Min Jun, Alexey Andreyev, and the rest of the extended team, that helped drive this idea to a reality in later years.