Silicon photonics continues to progress but is yet to be adopted for high-performance computing and server architectures, according to market research firm Light Counting.
However, the Super Compute 2022 (SC22) conference hosted two silicon photonics firsts:
- Professor Keren Bergman of Columbia University reported a working 5Tbit/s transmitter optical chiplet implemented using 80 channels and 3D packaging. The accompanying receiver chip is working and is being lab-tested.
- Ayar Labs demonstrated its 2Tbit/s TeraPHY chiplet in an end-to-end link, sending and receiving data.
During the panel discussion on high-performance computing and silicon photonics, Intel’s Fabrizio Petrini addressed head-on why optics had such a low profile at the show. “The reality is there is a lot of skepticism about this technology. The adoption is not going to happen anytime soon,” he said.
Systems designers don’t see the implications until they embrace this technology. But factors are aligning for change, and a transition point is being approached in how systems are built, he says; the implications for systems and disaggregation are enormous.
Optical switching is another technology that has been on the fringes of the market for decades. It was all the rage from 1998-2001, but then fizzled out as there weren’t any large scale commercial deployments of photonic switches.
LightCounting reported in August that Google had been using photonic circuit switching in its cloud resident data centers for several years. The 136×136 port optical circuit switch is Google’s own design.
At SC22, a start-up, Drut Technologies, demonstrated its interface card working with a photonic switch at the top of a SuperMicro server rack. The system allows the server’s CPUs to dynamically configure the resources they need (memory, GPUs) tailored for workloads.
Synopsys Inc. and Juniper Networks announced that they have closed a transaction to form a new, separate company that will provide the industry with an open silicon photonics platform to address the growing photonic requirements in applications such as telecom, data communications, LiDAR, healthcare, HPC, AI, and optical computing. The new company’s open silicon photonics platform will include integrated lasers, optical amplifiers, and a full suite of photonic components to form a complete solution that will be accessible through a Process Design Kit (PDK). The platform will enable a new level of integration at an unmatched price point, with the lowest power consumption for high-performance Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs). The name of the new company will be announced at a later date.
The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed at this time. The new company will be jointly owned by Synopsys and Juniper, with Synopsys as the majority owner. The new company’s results will be consolidated into Synopsys financials. While Synopsys expects the investment to be slightly dilutive to fiscal 2022 earnings, the investment is not material and will not affect Synopsys’ fiscal second quarter and full year 2022 guidance ranges provided on February 16, 2022. There is no change to Juniper’s full year financial outlook as a result of this transaction.
The new company is being formed, in part, from the carve-out of integrated silicon photonics assets from Juniper, which includes more than 200 patents on photonic device design and process integration. While part of Juniper, the new company has closely collaborated with Tower Semiconductor to develop and qualify Tower Semiconductor’s PH18DA process technology to enable the industry’s first “laser-on-a-chip” open silicon photonics platform. To demonstrate capabilities of this platform and accelerate customer adoption of the technology, the new company has created 400G and 800G photonics reference designs with integrated lasers and expects first samples to be available in summer 2022.
“Silicon photonics is a rapidly growing market that is transforming many industries and creating exciting opportunities for new applications in the future,” said Sassine Ghazi, president and chief operating officer at Synopsys. “The new company’s open silicon photonics platform, combined with Synopsys’ existing investment in a unified electronic photonic design automation solution consisting of OptoCompiler™, OptSim™, PrimeSim™, Photonic Device Compiler and IC Validator™ products, will help reshape the optical computing industry, enabling companies to cost-effectively shift to integrated lasers and significantly accelerate development of photonic IC designs.”
“This revolutionary technology will change the economics of how people are going to build photonic systems,” said Rami Rahim, CEO of Juniper Networks. “We have been strong supporters of integrated silicon photonics and we believe the new company will drive development of these systems by using an advanced open platform that will dramatically reduce costs and increase the performance and reliability of designs across multiple use cases. We are excited to continue to collaborate with the new company to enable a broad ecosystem to efficiently develop next-generation optical transceiver and co-packaged designs.”
A key challenge for silicon photonics has been the cost of adding discrete lasers, which includes the manufacturing as well as the assembly and alignment of those lasers onto the photonic chip. This becomes more important as the number of laser channels and the overall bandwidth increases. By processing the Indium Phosphide (InP) materials directly onto the silicon photonics wafer, the PH18DA platform reduces the cost and time of adding lasers, enabling volume scalability and improved power efficiency. In addition, monolithically integrated lasers on silicon wafers improves overall reliability and simplifies packaging. This “Laser-on-a-Chip” open silicon photonics platform will bring integrated photonics to a host of new applications and markets that were previously not thought possible. The first Multi-Project Wafer (MPW) is scheduled to be taped out in Q2 2022.
“We have had a long history of successful collaboration with Juniper Networks on integrated photonics. The new company formed by Synopsys and Juniper will strengthen and accelerate the adoption of the silicon photonics platform,” said Russell Ellwanger, CEO of Tower Semiconductor. “Providing an open silicon photonics platform consisting of integrated lasers that has been qualified on Tower’s process will enable customers to create innovative products with the potential to transform the industry.”
Intel has been working on Silicon Photonics for almost two decades.
- In 2004, Intel scientists created the first transistor-like device able to encode data onto a light beam.
- In 2011, the company announced a 50 Gb/s silicon photonics link created by multiplexing four hybrid silicon lasers.
- In December 2021, the company launched a Research Center for Integrated Photonics for Data Center Interconnects. The center’s mission is to accelerate optical input/output (I/O) technology innovation in performance scaling and integration with a specific focus on photonics technology and devices, CMOS circuits and link architecture, and package integration and fiber coupling.
“At Intel Labs, we’re strong believers that no one organization can successfully turn all the requisite innovations into research reality. By collaborating with some of the top scientific minds from across the United States, Intel is opening the doors for the advancement of integrated photonics for the next generation of compute interconnect. We look forward to working closely with these researchers to explore how we can overcome impending performance barriers.” –James Jaussi, senior principal engineer and director of the PHY Research Lab in Intel Labs
Intel has recently demonstrated progress in critical technology building blocks for integrated photonics. Light generation, amplification, detection, modulation, CMOS interface circuits and package integration are essential to achieve the required performance to replace electrical as the primary high-bandwidth off-package interface.
Additionally, optical I/O has the potential to dramatically outperform electrical in the key performance metrics of reach, bandwidth density, power consumption and latency. Further innovations are necessary on several fronts to extend optical performance while lowering power and cost.
The Intel Research Center for Integrated Photonics for Data Center Interconnects brings together universities and world-renowned researchers to accelerate optical I/O technology innovation in performance scaling and integration. The research vision is to explore a technology scaling path that satisfies energy efficiency and bandwidth performance requirements for the next decade and beyond.
Synopsys, Inc. is the Silicon to Software™ partner for innovative companies developing the electronic products and software applications we rely on every day. As an S&P 500 company, Synopsys has a long history of being a global leader in electronic design automation (EDA) and semiconductor IP and offers the industry’s broadest portfolio of application security testing tools and services. Whether you’re a system-on-chip (SoC) designer creating advanced semiconductors, or a software developer writing more secure, high-quality code, Synopsys has the solutions needed to deliver innovative products. Learn more at https://www.synopsys.com
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