Looking Back at ISC 2015 in Frankfurt

This blog post was authored by Sando Anoff, Finisar RSM.

Finisar was a participant at the recent ISC 2015 High Performance Conference and Tradeshow in Frankfurt, the premiere annual Supercomputing event in Europe. We set up a live demo of a 100 Gb/s Quadwire® active optical cable, which attracted a lot of attention. This product is based on our advanced in-house device technology and consists of four VCSELS operating at 25 Gb/s each on the transmit side and the corresponding PIN receivers on the receive side (all integrated in a single cable).

If you are a newcomer to the field of supercomputing, you might wonder what optical communication has to do with it, but the fact is that high-speed and low-latency communications have always been an essential part of high-performance computing designs, due to the huge amounts of information that need to be transmitted quickly and with a minimum of delay within the different parts of the system. For such demanding requirements, and except in cases where the distances covered are relatively short, optical transmission is the way to go. Another increasingly important factor, as the supercomputers get even larger, is power-efficiency, especially as the industry moves towards exa-scale computing. There were a whole range of interesting technologies on display at the show: IC’s placed in bubbling liquids, entire PCB’s submerged in barrels of fluid, etc. This trend towards energy efficiency may partly explain the considerable interest shown in our optical engines (Board-mount optical assemblies) that we had on display. These are compact, high-bandwidth optical interconnects that can be mounted directly onto a host board and reduce power consumption.

Something that really caught my eye as I wandered through the exhibition area was a booth that showed how a supercomputing infrastructure can be extended to encompass our globe. It allows an InfiniBand fabric – normally a short-range network used in supercomputers and data centers – to be securely extended via optical fiber over global distances. This was presented by a company called Obsidian Strategics and I was very pleasantly surprised when the friendly gentleman there pulled out the transceiver installed in his systems, and, lo and behold, it was from Finisar! That definitely made my day, not to mention the great conversation we had about sending huge chunks of data across transoceanic links at light speed!

So where do we go from here? The fastest supercomputer in existence today (Milky Way 2) is about 10 thousand million times faster than the first supercomputer that was built in 1964. I am certainly looking forward to the future as the industry pushes the envelope of what is possible.

Video: Finisar 5×7 Flex-Rate Transponder and CFP2-ACO Coherent Transceiver Demos at OFC 2015

Video: Finisar Multimode Technology Roadmap Demo at OFC 2015

Video: Finisar QSFP28 Transceiver Family Demo at OFC 2015