2 min readSilicon Photonics Technology Could Speed up Cloud and Big Data Applications

Yorktown Heights, NY — IBM has announced a significant milestone in the development of silicon photonics technology, which, according to the Company, enables silicon chips to use pulses of light instead of electrical signals over wires to move data at rapid speeds and longer distances in future computing systems.

Engineers at the Company have designed and tested a fully integrated wavelength multiplexed silicon photonics chip, which will soon enable manufacturing of 100 Gb/s optical transceivers. This will allow datacenters to offer greater data rates and bandwidth for cloud computing and Big Data applications, says the Company.

Silicon photonics uses tiny optical components to send light pulses to transfer large volumes of data at very high speed between computer chips in servers, large datacenters, and supercomputers, overcoming the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects. The technology enables the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using sub-100nm semiconductor technology.

Silicon photonics uses four distinct colours of light travelling within an optical fibre, rather than traditional copper wiring, to transmit data in and around a computing system. According to the report, in just one second, this new transceiver is estimated to be capable of digitally sharing 63 million tweets or six million images, or downloading an entire high-definition digital movie in just two seconds.

The technology industry is entering a new era of computing that requires IT systems and cloud computing services to process and analyze huge volumes of Big Data in real time, both within datacenters and particularly between cloud computing services. This requires that data be rapidly moved between system components without congestion.

Silicon photonics technology leverages the unique properties of optical communications, which include transmission of high-speed data over kilometre-scale distances, and the ability to overlay multiple colours of light within a single optical fibre to multiply the data volume carried, all while maintaining low power consumption. These characteristics combine to enable rapid movement of data between computer chips and racks within servers, supercomputers, and large datacenters, in order to alleviate the limitations of congested data traffic produced by contemporary interconnect technologies.

By moving information via pulses of light through optical fibres, optical interconnects are an integral part of contemporary computing systems and next generation datacenters. Computer hardware components, whether a few centimetres or a few kilometres apart, can seamlessly and efficiently communicate with each other at high speeds using such interconnects. This disaggregated and flexible design of datacenters will help reduce the cost of space and energy, while increasing performance and analysis capabilities for users ranging from social media companies to financial services to universities.

Article adapted from an IBM news release.

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