IBM ready to commercialise light pulse technology

News 10 Dec, 2012

Big Blue claims data rates of 25Gbps have already been achieved.

IBM has developed a chip that can transmit data using light signals, and claims this will help firms deal with ever increasing volumes of data.

The "silicon nanophotonic" technology utilises light pulses alongside electric signals, which IBM claims allows more information to be carried between servers at a faster rate than traditional chips.

Big Blue has been working on the technology for 10 years and is ready to commercialise the concept as businesses enter the Big Data era.

IBM wants to commercialise the silicon nanophotonic technology using traditional manufacturing processes. The firm has taken a 90nm CMOS fabrication and integrated a number of modules to facilitate the light phase transfers. Additional components include wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), modulators and detectors.

IBM chip shows blue optical waveguides transmitting high-speed optical signals and yellow copper wires carrying high-speed electrical signals

So far nanophotonic technology has exceeded the data rates of 25Gbps per channel, IBM said.

The current method for increasing the performance in datacentres is to facilitate more parallel processes. This is done by packing more cores onto individuals processors and then loading more of these chips into racks and blades.

IBM claims this type of scaling is unsustainable and not suitable for transferring ExaBytes of data.

The firm claims that optics are “destined” to be utilised in datacentres as it can meet the large bandwidth demands of high-performance computing.

“As it already happened in long-haul communications decades ago when optical fibers replaced copper cables, the copper cables that connect racks in the datacentres are now being replaced by optical fibers,” the firm noted on its research page.

“Following the same trend optics can become competitive with copper at shorter and shorter distances eventually leading to optical on-board and may be even on-chip communications.”

Dr. Solomon Assefa, research staff member at IBM will reveal further details at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) this week