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How Corning’s Fiber-to-the-Chip Connectivity Solution Will Reduce Data Center Power Consumption While Expanding Bandwidth and Fiber Density

The ever-growing hunger for bandwidth in our ever-more connected society means that fiber optic technology must constantly innovate to ensure that connected enterprises – which increasingly means all enterprises – can continue to meet demand for digital services.

And with high-performance computing and 5G being deployed on a wide scale, data centers must grow their networking speed and capacity even faster.

But with growth comes challenges, and as their capacity increases, data centers are running into a major problem: keeping energy costs under control.

As both fiber optic speeds and switch capacities increase – which is necessary to meet bandwidth needs – more energy is required to transport the electric signal from the point of fiber termination, where the signal changes from light into electricity, to the chip. Carrying a very high-speed signal over an electrical trace is itself extremely energy intensive. That energy creates heat, and thus additional power is needed to keep the data center cool. Thus, the energy use problem gets compounded as additional switches, with many electrical connections, become denser, increasing energy consumption at an unsustainable rate.

To help ease this problem, Corning has developed a fiber-to-the-chip connectivity solution. This technology reduces power consumption for data centers, while still offering fiber-dense cables to enable faster growth in bandwidth. A handful of Corning data center customers having been using this solution for some time, but the technology’s first official unveiling was at the 2021 OFC Conference in June.

This solution terminates the optical fiber much closer to the switch ASIC in the chip, thereby shortening the distance of the electrical signal. This in turn reduces power consumption for data centers, in some cases by as much as 30%. It’s an innovative re-engineering of the chip and the fiber, as most fibers today terminate in pluggable transceivers at the faceplate of the switch.

In addition to reducing energy, our solution also maximizes fiber density, thus continuing to meet the rapidly accelerating demand for network bandwidth within a data center’s existing physical space.

Corning’s solution differs from others in the marketplace in important ways:

  • Our solution has high-density fiber array units for precisely aligning data signals and external laser sources to the photonic integrated circuits, which means there’s minimal data loss.
  • It offers superior fiber management, which ensures that all data and laser source fibers (both single mode and polarization maintaining) are cleanly organized between the photonic integrated circuits and the switch faceplate, regardless of architecture.
  • For later-generation switches that will require higher levels of density, our solution offers multi-core fibers configured as four linear cores within a 125 micron cladding diameter, which will enable density improvements up to four times over conventional single-mode fibers.

Not all existing data centers have servers that are fiber-to-the-chip enabled. But for those that do, or are considering it, this is an ideal solution to reduce energy costs and increase fiber density while minimizing data loss.

And there’s more to come on this front. Looking further into the future, Corning is developing a technology that will significantly simplify board assemblies while improving performance by replacing discrete fibers with glass waveguides in a fully integrated electro-optical glass substrate.

To learn more visit our fiber-to-the-chip solution and our other data center solutions.

Benoit Fleury is the Market Development Director for Corning Optical Communications’ OEM and micro-optics portfolio. Prior to this he led the Product Line Management team at iBwave, an indoor RF planning software company which Corning acquired in 2015. Earlier on in his career Benoit led product growth in other telecom companies including Nortel and EXFO, and developed Lynx Mobility, a cellular infrastructure & service company in northern Canada which he led as its initial President & CEO.

Benoit holds a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Concordia University in Montreal, is a Senior IEEE member and judges annually at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business’ international MBA case competition. Outside professional engagements, he’s an avid sailing and motorcycling enthusiast.