IBM’s Silicon Photonics Technology Ready to Speed up Cloud and Big Data Applications

“IBM has unveiled again a new leap in technology as it announced the IBM’s silicon photonics technology. Discover how this announcement could make a huge impact in businesses and datacenters today.”


Yorktown Heights, N.Y. – 12 May 2015: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced a significant milestone in the development of silicon photonics technology, which enables silicon chips to use pulses of light instead of electrical signals over wires to move data at rapid speeds and longer distances in future computing systems.

IBM Silicon Photonics

Cassette carrying several hundred chips intended for 100 Gb/s transceivers, diced from wafers fabricated with IBM CMOS Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology. The dense monolithic integration of optical and electrical circuits and the scalable manufacturing process provide a cost-effective silicon photonics interconnect solution, suitable for deployment in cloud servers, datacenters, and supercomputers. (US quarter coin shown for scale.) Credit: IBM

For the first time, IBM engineers have designed and tested a fully integrated wavelength multiplexed silicon photonics chip, which will soon enable manufacturing of 100 Gb/s optical transceivers. This will allow datacenters to offer greater data rates and bandwidth for cloud computing and Big Data applications.

“Making silicon photonics technology ready for widespread commercial use will help the semiconductor industry keep pace with ever-growing demands in computing power driven by Big Data and cloud services,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. “Just as fiber optics revolutionized the telecommunications industry by speeding up the flow of data — bringing enormous benefits to consumers — we’re excited about the potential of replacing electric signals with pulses of light. This technology is designed to make future computing systems faster and more energy efficient, while enabling customers to capture insights from Big Data in real time.”

Silicon photonics uses tiny optical components to send light pulses to transfer large volumes of data at very high speed between computer chips in servers, large datacenters, and supercomputers, overcoming the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects. IBM’s breakthrough enables the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using sub-100nm semiconductor technology.

IBM’s silicon photonics chips uses four distinct colors of light travelling within an optical fiber, rather than traditional copper wiring, to transmit data in and around a computing system. In just one second, this new transceiver is estimated to be capable of digitally sharing 63 million tweets or six million images, or downloading an entire high-definition digital movie in just two seconds.

The technology industry is entering a new era of computing that requires IT systems and cloud computing services to process and analyze huge volumes of Big Data in real time, both within datacenters and particularly between cloud computing services. This requires that data be rapidly moved between system components without congestion. Silicon photonics greatly reduces data bottlenecks inside of systems and between computing components, improving response times and delivering faster insights from Big Data.

IBM’s new CMOS Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology will provide a cost-effective silicon photonics solution by combining the vital optical and electrical components, as well as structures enabling fiber packaging, on a single silicon chip. Manufacturing makes use of standard fabrication processes at a silicon chip foundry, making this technology ready for commercialization.

Silicon photonics technology leverages the unique properties of optical communications, which include transmission of high-speed data over kilometer-scale distances, and the ability to overlay multiple colors of light within a single optical fiber to multiply the data volume carried, all while maintaining low power consumption. These characteristics combine to enable rapid movement of data between computer chips and racks within servers, supercomputers, and large datacenters, in order to alleviate the limitations of congested data traffic produced by contemporary interconnect technologies.

Silicon photonics will transform future datacenters

By moving information via pulses of light through optical fibers, optical interconnects are an integral part of contemporary computing systems and next generation datacenters. Computer hardware components, whether a few centimeters or a few kilometers apart, can seamlessly and efficiently communicate with each other at high speeds using such interconnects. This disaggregated and flexible design of datacenters will help …


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