IBM and Agilent bring optical components to chips

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) will fund a four-year programme to develop optical interconnect...

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) will fund a four-year programme to develop optical interconnect technology for chip-to-chip communications, headed by researchers at IBM and Agilent Technologies.

As processing speeds increase and server vendors pack more processors in their systems, the existing copper interconnect technologies that link chips in a server will become a huge bottleneck, said Marc Taubenblatt, senior manager of optical communications at IBM Research. Optical technology could help solve that problem, he added.

Optical technology  tends to be used in communications networks and server-to-server connections to speed data transmission. Instead of transmitting electrical signals down copper wires, optical technology sends light waves over fibreoptic cables at faster speeds, using less power than copper technology.

IBM and Agilent will work to devise ways to miniaturise that optical interconnect technology so it can be used to connect chips within a server, such as in the connections between the central processing unit and the system's memory. Some optical technology is already used in I/O buses for connecting to storage devices or Lans.

Servers benefit from optical interconnects once data transmission speeds reach 10Gbps per channel or greater. The team hopes to enable bandwidth of 40Tbps between processors in a server by the time the project is complete.

IBM and Agilent intend to demonstrate the technology within three years, and spend the fourth year of the project demonstrating the results within a working system.

Darpa gave the two companies $30m to conduct their research.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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