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Universities debut £8.1m centre to develop laser and photonics data storage technology

Archana Venkatraman

Two universities and industry partners have launched a centre to train researchers to develop laser technology and integrate silicon photonics for big data management.

The University of Glasgow and Queen’s University of Belfast, along with 12 industry partners have created the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Photonic Integration for Advanced Data Storage.

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The centre will receive £8.1m funding, including £3m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the remainder from the institutions and industry partners involved, including the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland.

The aim of the centre is to address skills shortages in nanofabrication and photonic integration.

Photonic integration involves integrating many different types of optical components – such as lasers, modulators, detectors, multiplexers and optical amplifiers – on a common platform.

The centre aims to cater for ever-increasing demands for information and data storage. Researchers will seek to develop innovative laser technology to take cloud computing to the next level, said Glasgow University.

The centre will focus on developing photonic integration technologies to ease data storage.

Data storage has become a growing concern, as memory capacity of even the smallest of devices, such as smartphones, has grown exponentially. At the Datacentres Europe 2014 conference, experts spoke about how cloud computing, BYOD and the internet of things (IoT) are entering the mainstream, creating substantial data challenges in traditional datacentres.

Silicon Photonics - the technology that uses optical fibre for data transfers - increases bandwidth in servers and racks, improves data transfer speeds and reduces datacentre complexity. Photonics is important because it can transfer data at 50Gps between two devices.

Cloud and mobility drive data growth

Cloud computing is increasing the need for storage. In 2010, cloud accounted for 25% of storage use and, by 2020, it is expected to account for more than 60%.

Mobile systems are driving data growth – for example a server is needed for every 600 smartphones or 120 tablet computers.

 “There are two types of storage: traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) that provide high density at low cost; and solid state drives (SSDs) that offer less capacity at greater price, but are more power-efficient and used in mobile devices,” said Professor John Marsh, head of the School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

While much personal computing and related electronic devices are moving to SSD, there is still increasing need for HDD in personal usage in back-up drives, personal TV systems and video recorders, he said.

“To address these capacity issues, new technology will be required – and that is likely to be heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which uses electromagnetic energy to locally heat the disk to ease the process of writing data on to it,” Marsh said.

“It would allow recording densities to continue to increase at the same rate as happened over the past decade.”

HAMR will require the integration of photonic components such as lasers, waveguides and plasmonic antennas into the recording head. The centre will focus on integration, where the key challenge for the researchers will be to make HAMR deployable as a low-cost technology, Marsh added.

The centre’s industry partners include Seagate Technology, IQE, Oclaro, CST Global, JEOL, Cirdan Imaging, and the Knowledge Transfer Network, among others.


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