By Mardi Balgochian Scalise
TeraConnect, a privately held optical components company, emerged from start-up status by announcing its successful demonstration of what it claims to be the industry's densest optical interconnect. During an eight-week proof-of-concept technology demonstration with a major, undisclosed manufacturer of network servers, TeraConnect replaced the company's copper-based interconnects with a massively parallel, VCSEL-based optical transceiver module connecting 640 active optical devices.
Based on core technology developed over the course of approximately one year at its Nashua, NH-based mother company BAE Systems (formerly Sanders, a Lockheed Martin Company), the TeraConnect technology and future products are designed to eliminate the bottlenecks that limit data transmission between digital platforms, enabling greater throughput in advanced communications and computing equipment.
The TeraConnect module used in the demonstration is a massively parallel, VCSEL-based, optical transceiver module utilizing 640 active optical devices. According to the company, the module also incorporates two innovations previously unseen: differential optical signaling for improved bit error performance; and bank by bank switching capability for built-in redundant operation in case of fiber or transceiver channel failure. The demonstration module operates in a synchronous fashion -- ideal for bus extension and I/O functions within a high performance server environment.
The technology demonstration replaced a 6-meter copper cable with a 36-meter fiber optic cable driven by TeraConnect optical transceiver modules. The link performed flawlessly from installation, allowing the system to boot and run test patterns error free. The link has run error free on a special test bed for over eight weeks. The demonstration hardware, designed and manufactured by TeraConnect, includes two transceiver modules mounted on test boards, a 36-meter fiber bundle of 640 individual multi-mode fibers, and a 640 element optical connector. The transceiver modules contain high-density electrical edge connectors, an electrical interface board, a custom ASIC which includes 320 laser driver amplifiers and 320 trans-impedance amplifiers as well as coding and switching logic, a 16 x 20 array of oxide confined VCSELs, and a 16 x 20 array of GaAs PIN Diode detectors.
"In actual performance during the test, the optical transceiver from TeraConnect never failed as it passed data over an extended I/O link on the high-end server. High reliability and scalability are critical for moving forward with this technology," said TeraConnect Vice President of Business Development, Dr. Glenn Thoren.
"The applications extend beyond optical interconnects and will dramatically reduce the cost of optical-electrical-optical conversion. By meeting or exceeding bandwidth transmission requirements while simultaneously reducing the costs of procurement and operation of optical networks, our technology opens up a whole new world of options for our OEM customers," said TeraConnect CEO George Dannecker.
Although not definitively scheduled, TeraConnect is on pace to bring to market "two-dimensional" parallel optical interconnects later this year. The new technology allows multi-channel optical transmission and reception in a single high-density package using standard multi-fiber ribbon cable. This demonstration sets the stage for the family of optical interconnects currently in development at TeraConnect.
TeraConnect has designed its two-dimensional fiber optic device to lessen power consumption and reduce transceiver costs otherwise incurred by the need for extra interfaces, components, and packaging. End users will also benefit, as systems built with the TeraConnect high-density technology will occupy less space and consume less power than existing approaches.
According to Dr. John M. McQuillan, a "luminary" in next generation networking and president of McQuillan Ventures, an investing and consulting firm that supports entrepreneurial efforts to reconstruct the public network for the Internet era, "Current efforts to improve network performance including faster network chips and improved SONET will give way to more revolutionary cost reductions of optical components that will lead to profound changes in the public network. Vendors and service providers who ignore these disruptive innovations do so at their own risk."
Dannecker added, "TeraConnect's optical interconnects will benefit equipment manufacturers in the optical transport, core router, technical server, and storage area networking industries. Initially, TeraConnect products will prove most beneficial to the providers of high-performance equipment installed at the core of the Internet infrastructure. These markets constitute a huge and growing business base measured in billions of dollars."
Other applications for TeraConnect technology include interconnects for routers, switches, and storage area networks. As these machines within the Internet infrastructure continue to grow in size, they may occupy several racks in the central office. TeraConnect modules enable them to be connected at line rates to create a single virtual machine - greatly simplifying installation and servicing while providing a direct path to enhanced scalability.
TeraConnect modules, which will be used to interconnect server and data center equipment, will realize savings in power, board space, and front/rear panel connector space, a principal focus of the technology. TeraConnect builds scalability into its devices, providing the capability to expand throughput simply by adding additional fibers. The company's mission is to increase scalability and cost-efficient utilization of space, and the products are designed to result in a low cost-per-data-bit transmitted.
According to Patrick Riley, TeraConnect Director of Corporate Communications, "No company has demonstrated the technology we have -- a high density, 2D optical interconnect in the short haul, optical interconnect arena. It's a pretty defined market area."
Although TeraConnect won't be at any trade shows in the coming months, once they announce their products later this year, they are planning to become a major player in the interconnect market, delivering exceptionally high bandwidth and a truly scalable interconnect solution.
TeraConnect, a spinoff of BAE Systems, is fresh off its demonstration of the dense optical interconnect and backed with $40 million in capital following an initial round of funding. In a November 20, 2000 press release, Sanders, a Lockheed Martin Company, announced an agreement with three venture capital firms to create TeraConnect based on Sanders-developed optical communications technology. The new company was formed to produce a variety of optical and optoelectronic devices, which contain fundamental technology developed at Sanders. A core team of Sanders employees were transferred to the new company to design, develop and integrate the new devices, while TeraConnect sought out other company leaders such as now-CEO George Dannecker, formerly president and COO of Aavid Thermalloy, a $250 million worldwide market leader of thermal products and services for semiconductors and power semiconductors; and Vice President of Sales, Jon Mann, previously regional vice president of sales for Accelerated Networks, a start-up in multiservice broadband access (MSBA) products that enable telecommunications service providers to bundle voice and data services over a single broadband access network.
Officially launched in the fourth quarter of 2000, the Nashua, New Hampshire-based TeraConnect provides high performance optical and opto-electronic components for the high-speed router, server and telecommunications infrastructure markets. TeraConnect was initially funded with $40 million from Goldman Sachs, Kodiak Venture Partners and Spectrum Equity Investors. For more information, visit www.teraconnect.com.