One Terabit-Per-Second Transfer Speed Available With Holey Optichip
March 8, 2012

One Terabit-Per-Second Transfer Speed Available With Holey Optichip

IBM researchers have developed a prototype optical chip, called Holey Optochip, with the ability to transfer a terabit of data per second, which could enhance the power of supercomputers, such as those found in the Power 775 and Blue Gene systems from IBM.

The chip is a parallel optical transceiver consisting of both a transmitter and a receiver that is designed to handle the large amount of data created and transmitted over corporate and consumer networks as a result of new applications and services.

It is expected to power future supercomputer and data center applications, an area where IBM already uses optical technology.

This innovative design requires fabricating 48 holes through a standard 90-nanometer silicon CMOS chip, reports Jon Brodkin for ArsTechnica. The holes allow optical access through the back of the chip to 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels.

The module is constructed with components that are commercially available, throwing open the possibility of manufacturing it at economies of scale and the transceiver meets green computing objectives, as it consumes less than 5 watts, reports PC World´s John Ribeiro.

Optical technology is preferred over electrical for transmitting high-bandwidth data over longer distances and is used primarily for telecommunications networks, said IBM Optical Links Group manager Clint Schow.

“I think the number one supercomputer ten years ago had no optics in it whatsoever, and now you´re seeing large scale deployments, mostly for rack-to-rack interconnects within supercomputers,” Schow told Brodkin.

“It´s making its way deeper into the system and getting closer and closer to the actual processor.”

With the Holey Optochip, Schow told Brodkin, “Our target is the bandwidth that interconnects different processors in the system–not the processor talking to its memory, but a processor talking to another processor in a large parallel system.”

“You need the holes because if you have the silicon substrate the chip is made out of, the light can´t go through it,” Schow said. “You need to make a hole to let the light pass through.”

An IBM spokesperson further explains that “the optical devices are directly soldered to the front of the CMOS IC (integrated circuit) and the emission/detection of the optical signals is pointed toward the back of the chip. The holes are etched through the chip, one under each laser and detector to allow the optical signals to pass through the chip itself.”

IBM itself is not planning on mass-producing the chips, Schow said they could become commercially available within a year or two and he expects the prices to be in the $100 to $200 range.

“We´re in a group within IBM Research, looking at communications technologies we´ll need for future computers, particularly for crunching big data, and analytics applications when you have to have tons of bandwidth in the system,” he said.

“Our mission is to prototype technologies and show what´s possible, to drive the industry to commercial solutions that we can then procure and put into our systems.”


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