IBM has come up with a novel way to boost the delivery of internet data by using pulses of light instead of electrical signals. The chip giant is hopeful that the technology, which can eventually lead to faster mobile internet services, will one day enable it to shift large levels of data between processors in computer servers quicker than ever before. This in turn could lead to improvements in the computing power and data used by net services such as apps.
Data is traditionally transferred via electrons. The IBM’s researchers believe the new technology will be able to send data further between different parts of a server centre safely and securely, and it should also increase data delivery speeds thanks to light’s ability to carry more information simultaneously than electronics.
From Conversion to Collaboration
Data centres have already begun to see the advantages of using light as a data transference tool. Optical cables are already replacing copper cables at data centres. However, the conversion to optic technology has been slowed down by its reliance on special equipment that is able to translate the light-encoded data into one that electronic processors can recognise.
IBM believes it has solved this quandary by tackling the conversion process with a special computer chip that is able to work with both optical and electrical components without separating their functions. The chip is easy to mass produce and is smaller than current conversion equipment, thus making it a more cost-effective option.
Dr Solomon Assefa, a nanophotonics scientist at IBM Research, explained the motivation behind the project by saying that the technology can assist in the retrieval of data “distributed” far and wide across a huge data centre. He went on to explain that when the data is not located together it can take a long time, and of course more energy, for the processor to find and retrieve the data. The current demand for data retrieval across a plethora of huge data banks is massive and is growing exponentially with the advent of cloud services. Thus there is substantial economic benefit to be realised from any technology that “can make this fast search happen”.
Assefa praised the technology further saying that the new technology was vital to help “computer servers to keep up with (the) growth” in data usage from apps and other net services, “so that we can actually make sense of the data through analytics and so forth”.
A growing range of applications and services rely on fast data retrieval including “video content, cloud computing, social networks, business analytics” he pointed out.
Upping The Ante
IBM believes it can increase the speed of its chips by giving them a number of channels so that they can cope with light-encoded data at speeds of up to 25 gigabits per second (Gbps). The more chips working together, the more power they have. Thus companies using the new chips will be able to band them together to deliver ever-faster data retrieval rates.
IBM say that the new technology is expected to be delivered to the market within a few years.
Details of the development are being presented at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.