IBM Chip Breakthrough Makes Light-Borne Data A Real-World Proposition

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Silicon nanophotonics should supplement speed up computers for Big Data

IBM believes it has made a major breakthrough in “silicon nanophotonics” – the branch of technology that uses light rather than electrical signals to transfer data within computer systems.

Big Blue said it has managed to lump optical components, like germanium photodetectors and advanced multiplexing technology, alongside electrical circuits on a single silicon chip for the first time ever. IBM did it using a standard 90nm semiconductor fabrication process too, meaning general availability and commercialisation of such technology is not too far away.

IBM nanophotonicsLight increases the speed of signals within chips and could make for significantly faster computing. IBM thinks that light-enabled chips would be ideal for rapid Big Data work, enabling data mining at unprecedented speeds.

The tech titan envisions such chips to be in use across servers and supercomputers.

IBM welcomes you to the future

“The use of a standard chip manufacturing process will alleviate high cost of traditional interconnects,” IBM said.

“Single-chip optical communications transceivers can now be manufactured in a standard CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) foundry, rather than assembled from multiple parts made with expensive compound semiconductor technology.

“In addition, the technology is capable of feeding a number of parallel optical data streams into a single fiber by utilising compact on-chip wavelength-division multiplexing devices. The ability to multiplex large data streams at high data rates will allow future scaling of optical communications capable of delivering terabytes of data between distant parts of computer systems.”

Big Blue said the breakthrough had been ten years in the making and believes its research will have a major impact in the coming years.

“This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications,” added Dr John Kelly, senior vice president and director of IBM Research.

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