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 Home > News > General Computing > Holey O...
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Thursday, March 08, 2012
Holey Optochip First to Transfer One Trillion Bits of Information per Second Using the Power of Light


IBM scientists today will report on a prototype optical chipset, dubbed "Holey Optochip", that is the first parallel optical transceiver to transfer one trillion bits - one terabit - of information per second.

The report will be presented at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference taking place in Los Angeles.

With the ability to move information at blazing speeds - eight times faster than parallel optical components available today - the breakthrough could transform how data is accessed, shared and used for a new era of communications, computing and entertainment. The raw speed of one transceiver is equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users at today's typical 10 Mb/s high-speed internet access.

"Reaching the one trillion bit per second mark with the Holey Optochip marks IBM's latest milestone to develop chip-scale transceivers that can handle the volume of traffic in the era of big data," said IBM Researcher Clint Schow, part of the team that built the prototype. "We have been actively pursuing higher levels of integration, power efficiency and performance for all the optical components through packaging and circuit innovations. We aim to improve on the technology for commercialization in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners."

Optical networking offers the potential to significantly improve data transfer rates by speeding the flow of data using light pulses, instead of sending electrons over wires. Because of this, researchers have been looking for ways to make use of optical signals within standard low-cost, high-volume chip manufacturing techniques for widespread use.

Scientists in IBM labs developed the Holey Optochip by fabricating 48 holes through a standard silicon CMOS chip. The holes allow optical access through the back of the chip to 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels to produce an ultra-compact, high-performing and power-efficient optical module capable of record setting data transfer rates.

IBM says that Holey Optochip module is constructed with components that are commercially available today, providing the possibility to manufacture at economies of scale.

The Holey Optochip achieves record speed at a power efficiency (the amount of power required to transmit a bit of information) that is among the best ever reported. The transceiver consumes less than five watts; the power consumed by a 100W light bulb could power 20 transceivers. This progress in power efficient interconnects is necessary to allow companies who adopt high-performance computing to manage their energy load while performing powerful applications such as analytics, data modeling and forecasting.

Technical Aspects of the Holey Optochip

Parallel optics is a fiber optic technology primarily targeted for high-data, short-reach multimode fiber systems that are typically less than 150 meters. Parallel optics differs from traditional duplex fiber optic serial communication in that data is simultaneously transmitted and received over multiple optical fibers.

A single 90-nanometer IBM CMOS transceiver IC with 24 receiver and 24 transmitter circuits becomes a Holey Optochip with the fabrication of forty-eight through-silicon holes, or "optical vias" - one for each transmitter and receiver channel. Simple post-processing on completed CMOS wafers with all devices and standard wiring levels results in an entire wafer populated with Holey Optochips. The transceiver chip measures only 5.2 mm x 5.8 mm. Twenty-four channel, industry-standard 850-nm VCSEL (vertical cavity surface emitting laser) and photodiode arrays are directly flip-chip soldered to the Optochip. This direct packaging produces high-performance, chip-scale optical engines. The Holey Optochips are designed for direct coupling to a standard 48-channel multimode fiber array through an efficient microlens optical system that can be assembled with conventional high-volume packaging tools.

Also at the OFC Conference, IBM researchers are presenting the following advances:

- Two optical links that are the most power efficient ever reported. Underpinned by a new receiver design, a complete single-channel VCSEL based link achieved 15Gb/s operation while consuming only 20 miliwatts of power. This represents the first practical demonstration of an optical interconnect that attains the efficiency levels that will be required for exascale computers circa 2020.

- A complete single-channel 40 Gb/s VCSEL-based optical link that not only sets a new benchmark for speed, but also operates at this high data rate with significant margin. Transmitter pre-distortion for end-to-end link performance improvement, an equalization technique that IBM has pioneered, enabled this breakthrough.


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