From Lab To Fab: Silicon Nanophotonics Arrives In A Nanosecond
It’s Monday, and here in Austin, Texas, it officially got cold overnight.
Yesterday, it was partly cloudy and almost steamy warm. And this morning, it’s like I was transplanted back to IBM’s Somers, New York, location, where the wind streams across the Westchester landscape and chills native Texans like me to their core.
But enough talk about the weather. I want to get to the topic of the day: Making little things that move information faster.
Earlier today, IBM announced a major advance in the ability to use light instead of electrical signals to transmit information for future computing.
The breakthrough technology — called “silicon nanophotonics” — allows the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using, for the first time, sub-100nm semiconductor technology.
Silicon nanophotonics takes advantage of pulses of light for communication and provides a super highway for large volumes of data to move at rapid speeds between computer chips in servers, large data centers, and supercomputers, thus alleviating the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects.
Big Light, Bigger Data
The amount of data being created and transmitted over enterprise networks continues to grow due to an explosion of new applications and services.
Silicon nanophotonics, now primed for commercial development, can enable the industry to keep pace with increasing demands in chip performance and computing power. Businesses are entering a new era of computing that requires systems to process and analyze, in real-time, huge volumes of information known as “big data.”
Silicon nanophotonics technology provides answers to big data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether few centimeters or few kilometers apart from each other, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibers.
Building Proof Beyond Concept
Building on its initial proof of concept in 2010, IBM has solved the key challenges of transferring the silicon nanophotonics technology into the commercial foundry.
By adding a few processing modules into a high-performance 90nm CMOS fabrication line, a variety of silicon nanophotonics components such as wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), modulators, and detectors are integrated side-by-side with a CMOS electrical circuitry.
As a result, single-chip optical communications transceivers can be manufactured in a conventional semiconductor foundry, providing significant cost reduction over traditional approaches.
IBM’s CMOS nanophotonics technology demonstrates transceivers to exceed the data rate of 25Gbps per channel. In addition, the technology is capable of feeding a number of parallel optical data streams into a single fiber by utilizing compact on-chip wavelength-division multiplexing devices.
Learning More About Nanophotonics
The ability to multiplex large data streams at high data rates will allow future scaling of optical communications capable of delivering terabytes of data between distant parts of computer systems.
“This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM,” said Dr. John E. Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research. “This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications.”
Further details will be presented this week by Dr. Solomon Assefa at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in the talk titled, “A 90nm CMOS Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology for 25Gbps WDM Optical Communications Applications.”
You can learn more about IBM silicon integrated nanophotonics technology here.