Analyst: Increased data center deployments feed active optical cable market
Data center Ethernet connectivity via AOCs has been the "next big thing" for quite some time. LightCounting says "next" is finally "now," thanks to increased use of 40GbE, as well as some clouds and Big Data applications adopting InfiniBand.
While the market for mainstream active optical cables (AOCs) such as 4x10-Gbps QSFP+ AOCs has historically been restricted mainly to high-performance computing (HPC) applications, the use of AOCs in data center networks has begun to increase, says LightCounting. The market research firm expects 10GbE SFP+ AOCs will represent 25% of the projected $98 million AOC market in 2014, thanks to growth in data center deployments. In fact, additional data center interest in all higher Ethernet speeds "from 25G, 40G, 100G, and even 400G" combined with inter-chassis AOC connections in core routers will boost the AOC market to $266 million by 2020, LightCounting predicts in its new report on the AOC market.
HPC clusters have been well suited to the use of AOCs, and InfiniBand-based clusters are mostly built with AOCs today, LightCounting says. Such uses will continue; HPC suppliers expect a return to strong growth rates in 2015, LightCounting reports, following an industry slump that followed an unusual HPC boom in 2012. AOC revenues have been helped during the lull by increased shipments of 4x14-Gbps InfiniBand FDR AOCs, which have supplanted declining sales of 4x10-Gbps InfiniBand QDR cables. Meanwhile, core router manufacturers have added to AOC use, as it proved AOCs better supported "pay-as-you-grow" options between chassis than embedded optical modules on their switch fabric boards.
However, data center Ethernet connections via AOCs has been the "next big thing" for quite some time, and LightCounting says "next" is finally "now," thanks to increased use of 40GbE as well as some clouds and Big Data applications adopting InfiniBand. Therefore, LightCounting projects that 2014 will have more than reversed the decline of 2013 in AOC sales and that 2015 will bring steady growth in unit volumes. The company notes that revenue growth will be more variable, as product mix changes throughout the forecast period.
This mix potentially includes 100G cables. Recently announced awards for range-topping supercomputers bode well for 4x25Gbps InfiniBand EDR AOCs even as the Intel "Grantley" server is already ushering in a welcome new upgrade cycle, LightCounting says. The report assesses Intel's first major in-house offering in the 100G HPC space, the Omni Path 100G interconnect fabric.
Meanwhile, multiple hyperscale data center operators are making plans for 25GbE at the server and 100GbE in their switching fabrics. While early 25G server connections will be mostly copper, AOCs will offer advantages beyond the reach of the next rack, LightCounting predicts. AOCs also will provide a cost-effective means to connect top-of-row (TOR) switches to end-of-row aggregation switches today at 40G and tomorrow at 100G.
The sixth edition of LightCounting's Active Optical Cable Report examines the product segment that embeds optical transceiver technologies into enclosed cables with electrical connections. It presents historical data on annual AOC shipments, revenues, and average selling prices for 2011-2013 and forecasts the market for 2014-2020. It analyzes technologies, market forces and trends, protocol transitions, data rates, and MSAs for InfiniBand, Ethernet, and other protocols. The database covers applications for AOCs in HPC, data centers, core routing, and storage. Additional analysis is included for the still-small video and consumer AOC segment such as HDMI, and Thunderbolt.
The report is based on confidential sales information and detailed analysis of publicly available data released by leading component and equipment manufacturers along with considerable input from industry experts.