Two of the largest manufacturers of high-speed I/O and backplane manufacturers, Molex and TE Connectivity today announced that they have formed a Dual Source Alliance (DSA) agreement to each produce a new generation of high-speed input/output (I/O) and backplane connectors, and cable assemblies for data communications applications.
Molex and TE will collaborate on the launch and promotion of select new connector and cable assembly products that enable the growing number of high-speed applications required as datacenters evolve with hyperscale models and increased virtualization. The DSA will support today’s data speeds and up to 56 Gbps and beyond. The scope of the agreement includes next-generation connector products, and the DSA is intended to build on the successful history with standard second source agreements for products such as: zSFP+ interconnects, zQSFP+ interconnects, CDFP interconnects, microQSFP interconnects, and Nano-Pitch I/O interconnects.
According to Nathan Tracy, TE Connectivity’s Data Communications Technologist, System Architecture Team and Manager of Industry Standards, back when 25 Gbps signaling was coming to market, there was a lot of concern and trepidation among customers over what the transition was going to be like and how challenging was it going to be.
“Both individually and collectively, TE and Molex had gotten that direct feedback. So as we were in the midst of still developing product, we did start some conversations around the idea of second sourcing on some of those 25 Gbps products to address that spot need that was voicing itself at that time,” Tracy said. “And over a period of time, we got very positive feedback from the customer base that this was a good thing, that this was very helpful to them. This was actually a deeper type of second source agreement than what might have been done in the past where it was just an exchange of some licensing. This was actually an agreement that called for interoperability testing, cross testing of exactly the same design. And it gave the customers a lot of assurance in terms of source of supply, time to market, cost, and performance.”
The DSA is focused on creating increased availability of high-speed solutions — composed of connectors, cages and cable assemblies — that are interoperable. It includes self-testing: TE and Molex will conduct cross-testing of select products and provide these test reports to customers. This will provide an assurance of product compatibility and help customers minimize their qualification time. Overall, this can result in cost savings for customers, improving the productivity and efficiency of their systems. Also, TE and Molex will bring products covered under the DSA to market in a tighter time frame to better support customers’ design and qualification processes.
Molex’s Scott Sommers, Group Product Manager, I/O Products and Standards, added that the DSA was born out of listening to customers’ requests for wanting more than one single source for high-speed products. “They’re looking for dual sources and a lot of these high-speed I/O connectors are defined, at least form factor-wise within various standard committees,” Sommers said.
Data centers are rapidly evolving to deliver higher density, higher speeds and richer virtualization models. High-performance, high-speed connectors and cable assemblies must support the system data requirements of new data storage, servers, switches, routers and other applications. These connectivity products typically offer superior high-speed electrical performance, which in turn requires sophisticated connector and cable assembly designs with advanced features for high-speed signaling, EMI containment and thermal efficiencies. This Molex and TE alliance aims to produce connectors and cable assemblies with these vital characteristics. This agreement is intended to offer increased product availability to customers and reduce the risk of new technology adoption by providing customers with the choice of two independent suppliers with interoperable products.
As datacenters move from 25 to 56 and even 112 Gbps, it is necessary that dual sources are comparable, Sommers said. “Small variances within products can make performance vastly different between two products that look the same,” he continued. “That is absolutely an area where we wanted to do interoperability testing, to make sure our customers will receive the exact or very close to the exact same performance no matter who they source.”
“From a technology standpoint, our customers are very worried about these increases in data rate and with each increase in data rate, new technologies are required to figure out how to address these new challenges. And if it’s each company purely 100% working on their own, then you can see how that might be a little bit unnerving for the customer base,” Tracy said. “So the power of the two largest guys in the I/O market having a DSA agreement like this in place really helps them sleep at night. It really is that confidence of having those two companies, at least on this one thing, agreeing that we’re going to do what’s right for the customer.”
Sommers added that that this agreement does not preclude three and four sources from coming in. “There’s not any kind of thought to just have two suppliers and that’s it,” Sommers said. “In some markets, two may be plenty for what customers are looking for but in others there may be opportunities for TE to license technology to other competitors because the market can bear three, four, five, or whatever amount of suppliers.”
Tracy concluded by saying this allows TE and Molex to bounce ideas off of each other, to simply be available as a second source, and most importantly, to assist in getting products to market in a timely manner. “It really gives us an existing, in-place framework, that even though we’re competitors, we can go and have those conversations where we identify market need, where we collectively or individually have that conversation about what’s a possible way to address that,” Tracy said. “We think that this agreement will be good for our customers in the long run.”