Thursday, 8 March 2012

IBM's New Optochip Transfers One Trillion Bits Per Second

By Alex Knapp, Forbes Staff

The Holey Optochip (Credit: IBM Research)

As Big Data increasingly becomes a part of our economy bandwidth becomes increasingly important. Not just wired or wireless bandwidth, either. When it comes to server racks and supercomputers, the internal bandwidth within a computer also matters a lot more.

IBM has made a big step forward in improving that bandwidth with their announcement today that they’ve developed a parallel optical transceiver – dubbed the “Holey Optochip” – that’s capable of transferring information at the rate of one trillion bits per second. That’s eight times faster than currently available optical components.

“We’re trying to deliver a component that looks like an electrical chip,” IBM researcher Clint Schow told me on the phone yesterday. “But it also had to be dense, compact, and power efficient. We were also focused on delivering it with components available today.”

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For the prototype optochip, the IBM research team drilled 48 holes in a conventional 90nm CMOS chip, which then allowed for the placement of 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels within the chip. Because it’s so compact, the chip is incredibly power efficient – it consumes less than five watts. And by using a standard CMOS chip, they’re able to bring the interconnects as close to the processors as possible, which allows for its incredible transfer speeds.

IBM’s next step will be to work with commercial partners to further refine and develop the chip. Even though the current iteration is only a prototype, Schow is confident that the development cycle for commercial applications will be short. That’s because all of the individual components of the chip are readily available, and the modifications can be performed without customized equipment.

“Part of the real advantage of this chip is that we put it together by using small tweaks in clever ways,” he said.

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