Cisco and Microsoft are linking up with a impressive array of industry names in a new consortium intended to address and define new industry standards in the use of optical modules, with the intention of improving the state-of-the-art in switch faceplate bandwidth density and airflow constraints, which otherwise threaten to be overtaken by increasing network demands for speed and throughput.

The new group is dedicated to standards intended to relocate optical modules closer to where they can give the most accurate (and improved) benefit – on the actual network switch or adapter motherboard.

COBO’s founding members include Juniper Networks, Broadcom Corp, Microsoft Corp., Cisco, Mellanox Technologies and Source Photonics and TE Connectivity. The announcement [PDF] was made yesterday in a joint statement from the newly-formed Consortium for On-Board Optics (COBO):

The consortium will immediately begin collaborating on a set of industry standards that define electrical interfaces, management interfaces, thermal requirements and pinouts to permit the development of interchangeable and interoperable optical modules that can be mounted or socketed on a network switch or adapter motherboard. COBO will enable the development of optical modules that can be placed closer to the network integrated circuits to decrease the power required to interface to the modules while also increasing faceplate bandwidth density and airflow.

optical-on-boardPrinciple Microsoft Azure architect and COBO chair Brad Booth said in the statement “The founding companies of the Consortium for On-Board Optics are taking a major step forward in improving the efficiency of optical interconnects in datacenter networks,” and continued “With ever-increasing data rates, the ability to move the optical modules closer to the network silicon provides a real economic and environmental benefit,”

In a whitepaper on the subject [PDF] of on-board optics in a data centre environment, TE Connectivity point out that power consumed by the networking equipment in a modern data centre adds up to an impressive 30 billion watts globally, and that U.S. data centres account for 2% of all energy consumption in the nation. The report states:

The energy use of data centers is already staggeringly large and estimated to be more than 2% of total U.S. electricity consumption. Networking equipment consumes about 50% of a typical data center’s energy. Air movement and cooling equipment consume about 37%, transformers and uninterruptible power supplies account for 10% and lighting and other items take another 3%.

Principal Analyst for LightCounting Market Research Dale Murray says in the COBO release: “LightCounting has tracked the decade-long use of proprietary on-board/embedded optical modules inside high-performance systems […] Standardizing these on-board modules via an industry consortium helps accelerate their use in the much larger datacenter market,”