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IBM unveils optical computing system for moving huge data files

Antony Savvas

IBM has unveiled a green optical prototype network technology for sharing huge files in seconds.

The technology is designed for sending items such as high-definition medical images, movies and other data in an energy-efficient way, said IBM.

The new technology uses light instead of wires to send information and could allow, for instance, the transmission of eight trillion bits (terabits) per second of information - equivalent to about 5,000 high-definition video streams - using the power of a single 100-watt lightbulb, IBM said.

This kind of bandwidth could drive energy efficiencies in datacentres and speed the sharing of large datasets.

This could involve scientists crunching data to discover new drugs, or to forecast the weather. It could also be used by people sharing high-definition movies between devices and friends, or doctors sending high-definition medical images to a specialist in seconds for diagnoses while the patient is in the office.

The system could also be used to power high-definition data to mobile phones and other devices, said IBM.

The optical technology could also save massive amounts of power in supercomputers. For a typical 100 metre link, the power consumed by the optical technology is 100 times less than today's electrical interconnects, and offers a power saving of 10 times more than current commercial optical modules.

The prototype "green optical link" is designed to meet the bandwidth requirements for peta- and exa-flop supercomputing.

The technology puts optical chips and optical data buses in a single package with standard components.

"Last year we unveiled an optical transceiver chip-set that could transmit a high-definition movie in under a second using highly customised optical components and processes," said IBM researcher Clint Schow, part of the team that built the latest prototype.

He said, "Just a year later, we have now connected those high speed chips through printed circuit boards with dense integrated optical 'wiring'.

"Now we have built an even faster transceiver and have moved the optical components away from custom devices to more standard parts procured from a volume manufacturer, taking an important step toward commercialising the technology," said Schow.





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