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Intel and Facebook unite over data centre rack technologies

18 Jan 13

Intel has announced a collaboration with Facebook to define the next generation of rack technologies used to power the world's largest data centres.

As part of the collaboration, the companies also unveiled a mechanical prototype built by Quanta Computer which includes Intel's new, innovative photonic rack architecture to show the total cost, design and reliability improvement potential of a disaggregated rack environment.

"Intel and Facebook are collaborating on a new disaggregated, rack-scale server architecture that enables independent upgrading of compute, network and storage subsystems that will define the future of mega-datacenter designs for the next decade," says Justin Rattner, chief technology officer, Intel.

"The disaggregated rack architecture includes Intel's new photonic architecture, based on high-bandwidth, 100Gbps Intel Silicon Photonics Technology, that enables fewer cables, increased bandwidth, farther reach and extreme power efficiency compared to today's copper based interconnects."

Rattner explained that the new architecture is based on more than a decade's worth of research to invent a family of silicon-based photonic devices, including lasers, modulators and detectors using low-cost silicon to fully integrate photonic devices of unprecedented speed and energy efficiency.

Silicon photonics is a new approach to using light (photons) to move huge amounts of data at very high speeds with extremely low power over a thin optical fiber rather than using electrical signals over a copper cable.

Intel says it has spent the past two years proving its silicon photonics technology was production-worthy, and has now produced engineering samples.

Silicon photonics made with inexpensive silicon rather than expensive and exotic optical materials provides a distinct cost advantage over older optical technologies, in addition to providing greater speed, reliability and scalability benefits.

Businesses with server farms or massive data centres could eliminate performance bottlenecks and ensure long-term upgradability while saving significant operational costs in space and energy according to the company.

Silicon Photonics and Disaggregation Efficiencies

Businesses with large data centres can significantly reduce capital expenditure by disaggregating or separating compute and storage resources in a server rack.

Rack disaggregation refers to the separation of those resources that currently exist in a rack, including compute, storage, networking and power distribution into discrete modules.

Traditionally, a server within a rack would each have its own group of resources. When disaggregated, resource types can be grouped together and distributed throughout the rack, improving upgradability, flexibility and reliability while lowering costs.

"We're excited about the flexibility that these technologies can bring to hardware and how silicon photonics will enable us to interconnect these resources with less concern about their physical placement," says Frank Frankovsky, chairman of the Open Compute Foundation and vice president of hardware design, Facebook.

"We're confident that developing these technologies in the open and contributing them back to the Open Compute Project will yield an unprecedented pace of innovation, ultimately enabling the entire industry to close the utilisation gap that exists with today's systems designs."