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Active Optical Cables for High-speed Data Center
Editor: James Lee   Date: 8/10/2016

There is no question that we live in a high-speed world. Our environment is shaped by places that pride themselves on services that emphasize quality, but prioritize speed. From fast food to the way we walk from one place to another, and even how we search for and obtain information, everything is seemingly done as quickly as possible. As technology has caught up to the speeds that at one point were merely desired but are now required, we have seen that to meet this demand you need to have the appropriate software and hardware.

So what are active optical cables ¨C and, more importantly, why should you care? Let¡¯s start with the basic definition that you would stumble upon if you happen to plug the term into a search engine: A specialized optical cable that uses electrical-to-optical conversion on the cable ends to improve speed and distance performance of the cable without sacrificing compatibility with standard electrical interfaces.

As for the second point, ¡°why should you care?¡± Well, put simply, active optical cabling is one of the fastest growing technologies in the data center space. As people expect more information to be available at their fingertips, our communications systems will need to be quicker ¨C and active optical cable is one of the best solutions to this challenge.

So what do active optical cables specifically bring to the table and why are they the way to go? There are a few things that these cables bring to the table that can have an immediate impact on your network.

Primarily, these cables offer both higher bandwidth and a longer reach with a better footprint than current copper cables. When compared to the incumbent copper cables in most cases, active optical cables provide lighter weight, a smaller size, EMI immunity, a lower interconnection loss, and reduced power requirements. It almost seems too good to be true, but active optical cables are one of those technological innovations that make their predecessors look obsolete and unsophisticated.

Another element driving the growth of active optical cable use is the expansion of data centers. We are seeing far more ¡°mega datacenters¡± being constructed, which means the cables connecting the infrastructure must go further than traditionally expected. The other data center trend that is accelerating the active optical cable market is the creation and development of new mid-level servers and switches that are optimized for these cables. For example, according to Shane Kavanaugh, Dell DCS, Dell has recently introduced low-power/high-speed servers with dual 40-Gbps ports. Developments such as these have accelerated and legitimized the development and deployment of more cost-effective QSFP+ 40-Gbps optical transceivers ¨C including their use and acceptance as interfaces for active optical cables this year and beyond.

In closing, let¡¯s look at the numbers. For that is how many responsible decisions must be made every day - especially in the business world. According to the market research and analysis firm LightCounting, in 2012 the active optical cable market grew by a staggering 65%, much greater than their forecast. They are now predicting that the active optical cabling market will grow 30% to $150 million this year. This increase is in large part due to datacenter managers planning for the future and the growth of the Infiniband market.

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