IBM is readying optical transceiver chips for the data centre that integrate optical components side by side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip.
The results will enable silicon photonics to deliver 100Gbps fibre optic links in the data centre to meet the demands of cloud computing and big data applications.
IBM claimed the development as a significant milestone in silicon photonics technology, and said that its engineers have for the first time tested a fully integrated wavelength multiplexed silicon photonics chip. The firm declined to indicate when the components might be commercially available.
The details were presented at the 2015 Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics in San Jose this week.
"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.
Optical data communication has been around for some time, but the components have traditionally been costly and restricted to connections where the bandwidth offered by a fibre optic link is essential.
Silicon photonics is one approach to bringing down the cost so that optical links can be used more widely, and is being developed by many firms including Intel.
IBM said that its new CMOS integrated nano-photonics technology will provide a cost-effective solution by combining the optical and electrical components onto a single silicon chip, along with structures for fibre interfacing.
The components can be manufactured using standard fabrication processes in a silicon chip foundry, making the technology pretty much ready for commercialisation, according to IBM.
IBM's reference design demonstrates transmission and reception of high-speed data using four laser wavelengths, each operating as an independent 25Gbps optical channel.
Within a fully realised transceiver design, these four channels can be multiplexed on-chip to provide 100Gbps aggregate bandwidth over a duplex single-mode fibre, which minimises the cost of cabling in the data centre, the firm said.
"Just as fibre optics revolutionised the telecoms industry by speeding up the flow of data, we're excited about the potential of replacing electrical signals with pulses of light," said Krishna.
"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."
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