OCP3.0 – The Future Trend

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Open Compute Project over the years has introduced many interesting ideas into traditionally conservative server space. The OCP form factor network cards has been one of the breakout technologies that found traction outside of OCP OpenRack compliant servers. The OCP3.0 form factor NICs that is trickling into the market is readying the world for beyond 100Gbps connections.

The form factor have advantage over standard PCIe NICs in that it is not perpendicularly mounted in relation to the motherboard, or require a riser that will degrade the signal quality of the stringent PCIe Gen4 and the incoming Gen5 standard. OCP3.0 was ground up designed to take the latest PCIe standard and electrical requirements into consideration, as well as the up coming networking standards beyond 100Gbps. Two form-factors were defined: SFF and LFF, which has PCIe x16 and x32 lanes capability. This allows 200Gbps (QSFP56) and 400Gbps (QSFP56-DD) of bandwidth respectively, future-proofing the form factor for many years to come.

One of the main change from the previous iterations of OCP NICs is that the form factor has evolved from a board-on-board mezzanine to a board-edge format. This has some highly beneficial implications. OCP 2.0 cards has space limitations regarding size of the heatsink. The larger footprint of OCP3.0 allows increase of heatsink surface area to allow better cooling potential, especially critical in server configuration where NIC is mounted toward the hot isle. The board-edge connection allows easier service without opening the server, while also taking advantage of PCIe’s hotplug feature for the ability for hot servicing to reduce downtime. Network card vendors, such as Intel and Mellanox, already have OCP3.0 NICs available in market and we’re expecting wider industry to embrace this form factor.