IBM, Agilent to bring optical components to chips

The US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will fund a four-year program to develop optical interconnect technology for chip-to-chip communications, headed by researchers at IBM and Agilent Technologies, IBM announced on Thursday.

As processing speeds increase and server vendors pack more processors in their systems, the current 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 said.

Optical technology is mostly used in communications networks and server-to-server connections to speed data transmission. Instead of transmitting electrical signals down wires made of copper, optical technology sends light waves over fibre-optic cables at faster speeds and with less power consumption than copper technology, Taubenblatt said.

The DARPA program will bring IBM and Agilent together 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 (CPU) and the system's memory, Taubenblatt said. Some optical technology is already used in I/O buses for connecting to storage devices or LANs, he said.

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

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

DARPA gave the two companies $30 million to conduct their research, IBM said in a press release.

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