Anaheim, Calif.—Anyone who uses fiber optics for communications uses pluggable optical modules to connect data-carrying optical cables. Large datacenters may have more than one million such modules. As a result, users of these optical transceiver modules that plug into switches and routers always want higher speed, lower power, and of course, lower cost. Nobody wants to pay more, even as data rates multiply.
The profitability crunch was the topic of a panel discussion, “The Promising Market of 100G Pluggable Devices” held on March 22 at OFC 2016. Representatives of pluggable module users, module makers, and their suppliers spoke on why, they claim, module makers are making many modules, but not making much money. “The optical community is made up of the smartest people doing the stupidest things to not make money,” said Vipul Bhatt, director of systems engineering at Inphi.
As datacenters transition to 100 Gbps optical links and look toward 400G, they will be replacing their line cards to achieve higher port densities and higher throughput, and that can result in new cables and new pluggable modules. The panelists cited several reasons why today's array of pluggable modules aren't all that profitable.
“There are too many MSA (multi-source agreements) and thus, too many variations of pluggable modules,” said Kenneth Jackson, product marketing director at Sumitomo Electric. User demand for smaller sizes has led to a wider range of pluggable modules that, according to Jackson, has raised costs. The industry has yet to standardize of a form factor for pluggable optical transceiver modules, though the QSFP seems to be in the lead. Even so, others such as micro QSFP and QSFP28 have been designed to handle 100 Gbps.
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