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ENergy-efficient Light-wave Integrated Technology Enabling Networks that Enhance Dataprocessing

The explosive growth of the internet has increased the amount of energy consumed by the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector, especially from datacenters where information in the "cloud" is stored and processed. There are many approaches to improve how datacenters use energy effectively, but ultimately, the metal interconnects currently used to transmit information between devices within a datacenter will limit efficiency gains. The ENergy-efficient Light-wave Integrated Technology Enabling Networks that Enhance Dataprocessing (ENLITENED) program seeks an entirely new approach to improving datacenter energy efficiency. ENLITENED projects will develop novel network topologies enabled by integrated photonics technologies, which use light instead of electricity to transmit information.
For a detailed technical overview about this program, please click here.  

Ayar Labs, Inc.

LytBit: An In-Rack Optical Communications System

Ayar Labs will develop new intra-rack configurations using silicon-based photonic (optical) transceivers, optical devices that transmit and receive information. The team will additionally develop methods to package their photonic transceiver with an electronic processor chip. Marrying these two components will reduce the size and cost of the chip system. Integrated packaging also moves the photonics closer to the chip, which increases energy efficiency by reducing the amount of "hops" between components. If successful, the project will prove that chip packages incorporating both optics and processors, or optics and switches, are possible. This will finally allow optics to penetrate deep into an electrical system and relieve chip interconnect bottlenecks, enabling system architecture improvements to achieve nearly double the energy efficiency with a structure more optimized for future data-use cases such as "big data" analytics and machine learning.

Columbia University

PINE: Photonic Integrated Networked Energy efficient Datacenters

Columbia University will develop a new datacenter architecture co-designed with state-of-the-art silicon photonic technologies to reduce system-wide energy consumption. The team's approach will improve data movement between processor/memory and will optimize resource allocation throughout the network to minimize idle times and wasted energy. Data transfer in datacenters occurs over a series of interconnects that link different server racks of the datacenter together. Networks in modern mega-scale datacenters are becoming increasingly complicated. One by-product of this complexity is that on average a large number of these interconnections are idle due to application specific resource bottlenecks, effectively reducing the energy efficiency of the datacenter. The Columbia team will develop a solution that allows for dynamic resource re-allocation using unified photonic interconnects and a network fabric architecture that untangles computing and memory resources and allows bandwidth to be steered to appropriate areas of the network. The design addresses the stresses placed on systems by real-time communication-intensive applications. By precisely steering bandwidth and workload, idling is reduced and only the required amount of computation power, memory, capacity, and interconnectivity bandwidth are made available over the needed time period

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center

Multi-Wavelength Optical Transceivers Integrated on Node 

IBM T.J. Watson Research Center will develop a two-pronged approach to improve future datacenter efficiency.. New optical interconnect solutions can provide a path to energy-efficient datacenters at higher bandwidth levels, but they must also meet key metrics including power density, cost, latency, reliability, and signal integrity. IBM's team will use their expertise with vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) to develop VCSEL-based optical interconnect technology capable of meeting the necessary future demands. VCSEL-based interconnects offer an appealing combination of low power consumption, small size, high performance, low cost, and manufacturability. The team will work to increase the operating speed of VCSELs, detectors, and the associated circuits, while also developing packaging solutions to install optical interconnects on the integrated circuit. This integration will allow the system to eliminate the traditional driver and receiver electronics of most board-mounted optical modules, greatly reducing the cost and energy use of data transfer. The team will eventually use single-ended signaling to drive and receive signals from the modules directly, increasing the bandwidth of the system chips by at least two times and improving power efficiencies across the datacenter.

IBM T. J. Watson Research Center

Optical Network using Rapid Amplified Multi-wavelength Photonic Switches (ONRAMPS)

The IBM T.J. Watson Research Center will develop datacenter networking technology incorporating extremely fast switching devices that operate on the nanosecond scale. At the heart of the process is the development of a new type of photonic switch. The dominant switching technology today are electronic switches that toggle connections between two wires, each wire providing a different communication channel. A photonic switch toggles connections between two optical fibers, where each individual fiber themselves can carry many communication channels allowing immense numbers of data transfers. Previously, photonic (or optical) switches exhibited slow switching speeds and were difficult to manufacture in high volumes, which limited their usage. IBM's photonic switches can switch quickly, similar to electronic switches, and can be fabricated using the same tools and procedures used to manufacture today's most complex microprocessors. Because each optical port carries significantly more data than their electronic counterparts, fewer ports are needed to route the same amount of data. The technology also saves time and energy because employing direct optical switching can reduce the number of times the signal needs to be converted back and forth from the electrical to optical domain and vice versa. Datacenter efficiency (including computing, memory, and communication) can be significantly improved by using photonic switches to develop new networks capable of exploiting these improvements.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Seamless Hybrid-integrated Interconnect NEtwork (SHINE)

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will develop a unified optical communication technology for use in datacenter optical interconnects. Compared to existing interconnect solutions, the proposed approach exhibits high energy efficiency and large bandwidth density, as well as a low-cost packaging design. Specifically, the team aims to develop novel photonic material, device, and heterogeneously integrated interconnection technologies that are scalable across chip-, board-, and rack-interconnect hierarchy levels. The MIT design uses an optical bridge to connect silicon semiconductors to flexible ribbons that carry light waves. The optical bridge scheme employs single-mode optical waveguides with small modal areas to minimize interconnect footprint, increase bandwidth density, and lower power consumption by using active devices with small junction area and capacitance. The architecture builds all the active photonic components (such as semiconductor lasers, modulators, and detectors) on the optical bridge platform to achieve low energy-per-bit connections. After developing the new photonic packaging technologies, and interconnection architectures, the team's final task will be to fabricate and test a prototype interconnect platform to validate the system models and demonstrate high bandwidth, low power, low bit-error-rate data transmission using the platform.

University of California, Berkeley

IceNet for FireBox

The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) will develop a new datacenter network topology that will leverage the energy efficiency and bandwidth density through the integration of silicon photonics into micro electro-mechanical system (MEMS) switches. Today's datacenter architectures use server nodes (with processor and memory) connected via a hierarchical network. In order to access a remote memory in these architectures, a processor must access the network to get to a particular server node, gaining access to the local memory of that server. This requires the remote server processor to be awake at all times in order to service the remote request. The processor-to-memory network has many stages and long latency, which results in significant energy waste in processor and memory idling on both sides of the network. The IceNet network is designed to achieve ultra-low latency connectivity between processor nodes and memory, drastically reducing energy wasted during system idling. A key component to the team's design is their LightSpark active laser power-management system. In addition to guiding the laser power where it is needed, the LightSpark module enables both wavelength and laser redundancy, increasing the robustness of the system. In total, the IceNet network will enable dramatic improvements in datacenter system efficiency, allowing for fine-grain power control of processors, links, and memory and storage components.

University of California, San Diego

LEED: A Lightwave Energy-Efficient Datacenter

The University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) will develop a new datacenter network based on photonic technology that can double the energy efficiency of a datacenter. Their LEED project mirrors the development of CPU processors in PCs. Previous limitations in the clock rate of computer processors forced designers to adopt parallel methods of processing information and to incorporate multiple cores within a single chip. The team envisions a similar development within datacenters, where the advent of parallel lightwave networks can act as a bridge to more efficient datacenters. This architecture leverages advanced photonic switching and interconnects in a scalable way. Additionally, the team will add a low-loss optical switch technology that routes the data traffic carried as light waves. They will also add the development of packaged, scalable transmitters and receivers that can be used in the system without the need for energy-consuming optical amplification, while still maintaining the appropriate signal-to-noise ratio. The combination of these technologies can create an easily controllable, energy-efficient architecture to help manage rapidly transitioning data infrastructure to cloud-based services and cloud-based computing hosted in datacenters.

University of California, Santa Barbara

Intelligent Reduction of Energy through Photonic Integration for Datacenters (INTREPID)

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will develop and demonstrate a technology platform that integrates efficient photonic interfaces directly into chip "packages." The simultaneous design and packaging of photonics with electronics will enable higher bandwidth network switches that are much more energy efficient. Traditional electronic switches toggle connections between wires, each wire providing a different communication channel. Having a limited number of communication channels means that electronic switches can lead to "fat" hierarchical networks, consuming energy each time data has to travel through one switch to another. By developing a platform that directly integrates efficient photonics into first-level chip packages, layers of traditional network hierarchy can be eliminated, reducing the power, latency, and cost of datacenters. Photonic interconnects integrated directly into chip packages can enable switches with a much larger port count than traditional electronic switches. These new, larger switches will connect more servers using fewer levels of required switching. The team estimates that an improvement in the network metrics (either cost or power) will enable a more than linear improvement in the overall transactional efficiency because faster networks and faster endpoint data-rates can be deployed, reducing the total number of computational and storage systems necessary to satisfy user transactions.

University of Southern California

System Testbed, Evaluation, and Architecture Metrics: STEAM

The University of Southern California (USC) will develop a framework and testbed for evaluating proposed photonic and optical-electronic interconnect technologies, such as those developed under the ARPA-E ENLITENED program. These new approaches will develop novel network topologies enabled by integrated photonics technologies, which use light instead of electricity to transmit information. USC's effort aims to offer an impartial assessment of these emerging datacenter concepts and architectures and their ability to reduce overall power consumption in a meaningful way. The team will focus on developing architecture specifications and models to assess the effects of photonic project components on system performance and efficiency, making it possible to quantify the potential energy reduction in datacenters. Specifically, they will simulate the impact on overall energy efficiency of dramatically different traffic, loading, and architectural configurations and then identify how individual new technologies such as optical components, optical switches, and transceivers, affect efficiency. The team expects that capabilities and facilities influenced by the project will form the basis of a national facility for evaluating new concepts for datacenter operations and the role of photonics in those systems.
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