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Photonics the future

Silicon photonics set to enable ‘terascale’ communications. By Graham Pitcher.

As processors get ever faster, they can handle increasing amounts of information. This, however, creates a problem: getting that data on and off the chip. But it’s not a problem limited to chips themselves; high performance systems often find themselves bandwidth limited.
So it should come as no surprise to discover that efforts have been underway for some time to develop optical interconnects – and optical backplanes – to overcome these limitations.
Although this work has been developing over the last ten years or so, it’s only recently that significant breakthroughs have been announced.
With its business model focused almost entirely on processors, it’s to be expected that Intel would have some degree of interest in developing optical electronics systems.
The company says a number of factors are driving this interest. Alongside the need to provide higher bandwidth links in data centres, for example, Intel is also seeing the need for optical connectivity in the consumer sector, where it’s likely that consumers will be downloading full length movies in the near future.
‘Whilst our microprocessors are projected to meet these future demands’, says Intel, ‘the bandwidth of the interconnects needs to be increased to meet the speed of the microprocessors’.
And it has been exploring this area for the last few years with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Recently, the first fruits of their combined labours were unveiled in the form of what has been termed the first ‘electrically powered hybrid silicon laser’.
According to the research team, the development addresses ‘one of the last major barriers’ to producing low cost, high bandwidth silicon photonics devices. And the team anticipates that when these devices are produced, they will not only find application in computers of the future, but also within data centres, where they will speed the flow of information.

Graham Pitcher

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