In a move designed to deliver dual-sourced, high-speed connectors and cables aimed at next-generation data communications applications, Molex and TE Connectivity have announced a Dual Source Alliance (DSA) agreement that enables them to manufacture the same new generation of high-speed input/output (I/O) and backplane connectors and cable assemblies. Under the agreement, the two companies will provide interchangeable and co-tested high-speed I/O and backplane copper solutions.
Buyers and designers will reap the benefits in the areas of accelerated product development, increased product availability, and faster time to market. The agreement also is expected to reduce the risk of new technology adoption by providing customers with two independent suppliers with interoperable products.
TE and Molex said products covered under the DSA will be brought to market “in a tighter time frame to better support customers’ design and qualification processes.”
The DSA supports today’s data speeds and up to 56 Gbits/s and beyond, and builds on the Molex and TE standard second-source agreements for products such as zSFP+ interconnects, zQSFP+ interconnects, CDFP interconnects, microQSFP interconnects, and Nano-Pitch I/O interconnects.
The origin of the DSA came about from the success of our customers under the second-source or “enhanced” second-source agreements, explained Nathan Tracy, Technologist, System Architecture Team and Manager of Industry Standards at TE Connectivity Data Communications.
“When 25 Gbits/s products were coming to market, there was a lot of concern over the technical leaps that were going to happen,” said Tracy. “Through various conversations and meetings an opportunity identified itself for TE and Molex to work together on 25 Gbit/s products – not product development but together in a way to launch product to market to satisfy those concerns.”
“Our customers have been asking for dual sources in a lot of the innovation areas,” added Scott Sommers, Group Product Manager, I/O Products and Standards, at Molex Inc. “Working together we realize there are benefits in getting design feedback in the design stage from each other, and that also quickens the pace to get product to market faster.”
“The high-speed area is where we’ve seen small differences in the design of products that could have a huge impact on performance,” said Sommers. “It takes a lot of technology to make products work as described and our customers can see that by having the same product from two different sources is a huge advantage.”
Sommers said there has been a big push for multiple sources particularly for high-speed I/O products, which are primarily driven by standards committees. “They want to have multiple-sourced products that are industry standard at a level where they can assure time to market. This DSA agreement will help facilitate that for the customers.”
In a previous interview Tracy told EPSNews that “the days of being sole-sourced are behind us. It’s becoming more the exception rather than the rule. With every new development, we think about who’s going to consume it; where is it going to be consumed; what are the technologies required, and who else in the industry would be a logical partner.”
“The customer wants a second source so it only serves us well if we talk about it right from the beginning,” he added. We do a lot of cross licensing and have a lot of relationships across the industry to enable the customer to have that security [of supply] that he needs with a second source.”
Different from a second-source agreement, the DSA goes a little deeper enabling the two companies to drive interoperability of connectors, cages, and cable assemblies as well as share common test plans. The DSA includes self-testing, which means TE and Molex will perform cross-testing of select products and provide the test reports to customers. This assurance of product compatibility helps customers minimize their qualification time, according to the companies.
This translates into benefits for buyers and designers. It can result in a cost savings and improve the productivity and efficiency of their system designs.
“We conduct cross testing to ensure that we have true interoperability,” said Tracy. “It’s more than a second source; it’s a common design. So when the customer receives the product they know it’s been cross tested, but it might not need cross testing because it is the same design.”
“It’s a huge technical and purchasing implication for the customer,” added Tracy. “It takes so much risk off the table. It’s two independent sources competing with each other in the market but the products are fully and completely interoperable so it takes the design variables out of it.”
The companies even go so far to ensure that the products are tested the same way, which includes using the same components on the test boards to show customers that both products are fully vetted and interchangeable. “That is goal of the DSA,” said Sommers.
In addition, the connector manufacturers said they will collaborate on the launch and promotion of select new connector and cable assembly products. The focus is on products that enable high-speed applications required in new data centers that implement hyperscale models and virtualization. This means connector and cable assembly designs with advanced features for high-speed signaling, EMI containment and thermal efficiency.
However, the companies made it clear that the collaboration stops when it comes to cost. It is not part of the DSA and each company will compete with each other to win business as in any normal competitive market.
In the future, the DSA could include technical collaboration between the two companies.
“The DSA agreement creates an opportunity where we could have technical collaboration but we haven’t launched or developed product in that way yet,” said Tracy. “The initial thought is we use this as a way to satisfy the market’s request for a quicker time to market and a more secure supply to market.”
“If Molex develops a product and we identify a market spike or an immediate need we could bring the DSA into play, or it could be a TE-developed product where we could use the DSA to help – those are the types of things that we have done to date but it doesn’t preclude the possibility of working together as well,” added Tracy.
“Part of what drives this is the accelerating pace of innovation in the marketplace,” Tracy said.
“We are working on 50 Gbits/ and the specs aren’t completed but we’re already talking about 100 Gbits/s so the rate of innovation is really accelerating. By being aware of product opportunities like this we can satisfy the market quicker because we see that faster market adoption from the time a product or a need is first identified until it ramps into production.”
The agreement addresses the need in the market to accelerate new technology adoption while eliminating the risk of adopting new technology, he added.
The first products available under the DSA are expected in the first or second quarter of 2017.