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Intel announces silicon photonics : the next BIG thing in data center traffic management

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For years, data center traffic management has been undertaken by the trusty old copper wires. This was the preferred medium keeping in view the high cost of fibre optics. But with network traffic in the data center doubling every 12 months, this is getting quite out of hand. Luckily, Intel has debuted the PSM4 silicon photonics module that will make it a lot easier to transfer data between data centers at high speeds.

Intel executive vice president Diane Bryant said at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco that the chip manufacturer had dedicted 16 years to come up with the new technology. She adds that Intel is “the first to light up silicon.”

According to Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore, the number of components on a chip will double every couple of years (the famous Moore’s Law). This law has held strong since the 1960s till date, although we are seeing a sort of saturation right now. But with the debut of silcon photonics, the prediction may climb back onto its game.

The module Intel showed off today is called the PSM4 silicon photonics model. It is basically silicon integrated with a laser light-emitting material. Using silicon lithography, the laser is aligned with precision. The laser used is a hybrid laser. This is a huge advantage as there is no need for any manual designing. The laser automatically aligns as required. This not only helps cut down the cost of the material, but also increases the efficiency by a heft.

“Electrons running over network cables won’t cut it,”

Bryant said.

“Intel has been working on silicon photonics over 16 years. We are the first to light up silicon.”

According to the Silicon Valley giant, the silicon photonics technology has already under testing by some of its closest clients since June. Microsoft (as expected, the two companies are basically buddies), has been an early adopter of this tech and according to the manufacturer, they have received quite a lot of praise about the PSM4. Microsoft is apprarently using the hybrid chips to power its Azure data centers. The tech is capable of transporting 100 gigabits per second across two kilometers, making it easier to share data at high speeds across the “spine” of a data center.

According to Byrant, optics will be required in the data management sector, soon. But that’s in the future.

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