At STH, we talk about silicon photonics every few weeks. We first saw Intel’s 100G Silicon Photonics module at OCP Summit 2017 when 100GbE networking was still considered high-end. At Intel Interconnect Day 2019 we got to see volume production 100Gbps CWDM4 QSFP28 silicon photonics modules. Now, you can buy the modules used on eBay for under $6 each.
Get an Intel Silicon Photonics 100GbE SFP28 500m Optic for $6
At OCP Summit 2017, we saw Intel showing off a QSFP28 100G module that it said was based on silicon photonics. This had the light green CWDM pull tab. In 2017, these 100G CWDM4 modules were just ramping production.
At Intel Interconnect Day 2019, we got to see the expanding silicon photonics portfolio that had grown since the 2017 announcement.
In 2019, Intel said it was in production with CWDM4 optic and it was ramping to a 2M unit/ year run rate. It was not on the slide, but perhaps Intel’s biggest customer at the time was Facebook. Each data center with tens of thousands of nodes and switch ports used a large number of optics. At the time, Intel told STH that its large hyper-scale customer was seeing a lower failure rate than with the traditionally manufactured optics.
Although many simply assume an optical transceiver is a pluggable module, inside there are a number of components to make the transceiver go from electrical signals to optical signals.
Here is a look at how these modules are made.
Integrating all of the components onto a single die means many fewer components in the transceiver. At the time, 100G was state-of-the-art so fewer steps in manufacturing were thought to lower failure rates and costs.
Now, one can get these directly on ebay for $5.95 each and a lower per-unit cost for additional units. Here is a link (Affiliate to ebay) to the units we purchased.
The units themselves are marked as used, and came with packaging saying “ITRenew”. ITRenew was focused on decommissioning and reusing hyper-scale hardware before it was bought by Iron Mountain. Still, we have purchased a few dozen from this seller that appear to be in good condition and work. Switch compatibility is going to mostly be for non-vendor-locked switches. These modules also run fairly hot, so ensure that your switch/ server has proper airflow.
If you just need a handful of 100G optics, these are a fairly good deal. We have been buying them for some time, and our forum readers have a thread on them that you can find here.
If you are getting into white box networking or just want a cool $6 transceiver, then these might be worth a shot. These may not be what you want to install in a mission-critical data center. On the other hand, they are likely fine for a lab environment and reasonably inexpensive to get spares for as well.