Transforming Computers of The Future With Optical Interconnects

2012-04-08 11:37:29

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Cyber Centerville gets a high-speed boost
That's what Centerville Mayor Ronald Russell said of his city's new fiber-optic network that is being installed by UTOPIA, otherwise known as the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency.All areas of Centerville will have access to the high-speed network in the coming six months, allowing businesses and households to log Internet speeds up to 100 times faster than traditional connections, according to UTOPIA officials.It's advantageous for businesses and households, Russell said. In both cases, the service aims to make a tremendous difference in Internet service.UTOPIA is a consortium of 16 Utah cities that has developed and underwritten the fiber-optic network. The organization has had its share of problems since UTOPIA launched in 2002, including a halt to construction in 2007 because of financial shortcomings.But it's on the move again, according to executive director Todd Marriott."We wanted to be here years ago," he said. "But now, Centerville is one of the most connected cities on earth."The mayor hopes the fast Internet network will keep businesses in Centerville, as well as attract new ones. One Centerville business, Digital Business Integration, has switched to the fiber-optic network with great results."Right off the bat, we have a tremendous reduction in cost and we get twice the bandwidth," said Devon Dorrity, president of Digital Business Integration. "And we have increased our productivity."UTOPIA can provide speeds up to 800 megabits per second, according to Roger Timmerman, the agency's director of network engineering. UTOPIA officials say the fiber-optic network is competitive with other cable networks.According to UTOPIA's Ladd Marshall, residential users can subscribe for a service that provides 20 megabits per second of upload and download capacity for about $55 a month. For about $60 a month, a residential customer can get 50 megabits per second. And for about $70 a month, the service jumps to 100 megabits per second."The real value is what residents say about it," Marshall said. "One resident said he'd been connected for two months and hadn't seen the word 'buffering' once. It takes the hassle out of Internet."The fiber-optic network in Centerville will be key to attracting "tech-type" companies, the mayor said, and, potentially, developing a business park west of Interstate 15 that will create jobs."UTOPIA has had its struggles and we wondered if it would ever get to Centerville," Russell said. "But we feel fortunate that we're building-out now."
Transforming computers of the future with optical interconnects
India, Feb. 26 -- The ability to manufacture photonic interconnect components-modulators, detectors, waveguides, and filters-on silicon substrates has finally been realized, and these optical interconnect structures show great potential for both intrachip and interchip applications.HP Labs, the central research lab for Hewlett Packard (HP) in Palo Alto, Calif., is studying how this shift to light-based interconnects may revolutionize the way computers are built. Moray McLaren of HP will present his findings at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition/National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference, taking place March 4-8 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.This is an exciting time because its a big transition for the industry, says McLaren, a researcher in HP Labs Exascale Computing Lab, focused on inventing computer fabrics for next-generation IT solutions using a cross-layer, interdisciplinary approach. In many respects, its one of the inevitable forces of technology thats been much-heralded for 10 years.Theres finally industry-wide agreement that it will happen. Weve reached the point where we can say that its an essential technology-well need to have optical interconnects to deliver these machines in the 2017-2019 timeframe.How will these optical technologies change the way computers are built? Computer architects hold essentially two views on the role photonics will play.One widely held view is that photonic interconnects are simply smarter wire, explains McLaren. Todays computers are connected with copper cable up to a certain distance, currently about 8 meters, and as data rates continue to increase, this threshold will drop to less than a meter. And once the threshold is exceeded, the interconnect transitions from copper to optics.While high-speed electronic interconnects are becoming increasingly range-limited, they still tend to cost less than optical interconnects. The result is that people are contorting the way they build systems to use as many of the less expensive electronic connections as possible-and non-optimal wiring topologies, notes McLaren.The other viewpoint suggests that the characteristics and capabilities of optical communication are sufficiently different to the way things are done electronically-meaning that we need to entirely rethink how to build computers. There are things that we might do differently because the characteristics of optical interconnects are different, McLaren points out. One very simple example is that within a data center, distance isnt much of a factor after youve transitioned to an optical interconnect. Having paid the price of moving from the electronic domain into the optical domain, we can connect up any distance.Another related topic that HP Labs is investigating, in terms of data centers, is pushing down power consumption. The power for computational parts is still reducing with Moores Law, along with the shrinking size of the individual transistors. But the power related to electronic communication isnt shrinking nearly as much because its tied to real-world connectors and cables that dont scale in the same way.Two of the key benefits of photonics are that it has the potential to provide lower-power communication over certain distances, and moving into the optical world provides more headroom in channel capacity and bandwidth densities are much higher. Photonic interconnects have very different properties than the electronic interconnects that underpin todays computer architectures. To gain the maximum benefit from emerging nanophotonic interconnects, its necessary to reevaluate the design tradeoff at the system architect level, McLaren notes.Techniques that have fallen out of use in the electronic domain due to signal integrity considerations, such as broadcast and circuit switching, can be exploited to significant advantage in optical interconnects.
Cisco to acquire CMOS silicon photonics firm Lightwire
Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) says it plans to buy privately held CMOS silicon photonics developer Lightwire, Inc. Cisco expects to pay approximately $271 million in cash and retention-based incentives to close the deal. While subject to standard closing conditions, the acquisition should be completed in the third quarter of Cisco's fiscal year 2012, which ends this April.Lightwire was founded in 2002 by Kal Shastri, a former AT&T Bell Labs engineer who settled in as chief technology officer. Investors included New Science Ventures, Artiman Ventures, Novitas Capital, and individual investors.Like competitors such as Luxtera and Kotura, Lightwire has sought to develop multifunctional optical subsystems using CMOS processes. The company announced a 10GBase-LRM module in an SFP+ form factor just before OFC in 2008 (see “Lightwire intros first CMOS photonics 10GbE SFP+ LRM module”). It also claimed to have an active optical cable offering.In this video from 2008, Shastri and then-CEO Vijay Albuquerque explain what they were up to. (Albuquerque was replaced in October 2009 by current President and CEO Ameesh Divatia.)However, unlike Luxtera and Kotura, Lightwire had trouble getting products into the market. That hurdle is expected to be overcome by the second half of next year, according to a blog posted by Eve Griliches of AGC Research. Griliches reports that the product will focus on high-end data center requirements for data rates of 40 and 100 Gbps (and higher) and reaches as great as 40 km. The reduction in cost, density, and power requirements that a CMOS-based transceiver would provide would likely be compelling.Which explains why the company would interest Cisco. "The acquisition of Lightwire will support our data center and service provider customers as they manage the continuing deluge of network traffic alongside tight capital and operating budgets," said Surya Panditi, senior vice president, Cisco Service Provider Networking Group. "With the combined know-how from Cisco in silicon design and Lightwire in CMOS photonics, we will transform Cisco's optical connectivity business to an integrated technology platform that supports our customers' burgeoning need for cost-effective high-speed networks."Market analysts approve of the deal. “The transaction hits several key themes we have highlighted before: system houses vertically integrating to own differentiating chip technology, power consumption as hot button, silicon photonics and photonic integration entering the mainstream, and innovators finding fertile ground at the intersection of photonics and electronics,” writes Karen Liu, principal analyst, components, at market research and analysis firm Ovum, in a research note. Liu sees the acquisition as part of a strategy to acquire technology that Cisco can leverage to create differentiation from competitors such as Huawei. The Lightwire technology potential could enable Cisco to create competitive advantage in power consumption and price.Griliches also likes the planned acquisition. “While targets are initially for routers and switches, all next-generation platforms will use this device and can begin integration designs today,” she wrote on the blog. “The CMOS platform is one of the most manufactureable in the world and is a key target for optical and electrical integration for many future platforms. Because of its friendly base, the CMOS is perfect for higher level integration at lower cost points.”Headquartered in Allentown, PA, with offices in Santa Clara, CA, Lightwire and its approximately 60 employees will become part of Cisco's Transceiver Modules Group Business Unit and Supply Chain Operations Group if and when the deal closes.
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