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Photonic Project Evaluation

University of Southern California (USC)

System Testbed, Evaluation, and Architecture Metrics: STEAM

ARPA-E ENLITENED
Program: 
ARPA-E Award: 
$1,700,000
Location: 
Los Angeles, CA
Project Term: 
08/17/2017 to 08/16/2019
Project Status: 
ACTIVE
Technical Categories: 
Critical Need: 

Datacenters are a critical component of the modern internet, responsible for processing and storing tremendous amounts of data in the "cloud." Datacenters also provide the computational power needed for handling "big data," a growing segment of the U.S. economy. Currently, datacenters consume more than 2.5% of U.S. electricity and this figure is projected to double in about eight years due to the expected growth in data traffic. There are many approaches to improving the energy efficiency of datacenters, but these strategies will be limited by the efficiency with which information travels along metal interconnects within the devices in the datacenter--all the way down to the computer chips that process information. Unlike metal interconnects, photonic interconnects do not rely on electrons flowing through metal to transmit information. Instead, these devices send and receive information in the form of photons--light--enabling far greater speed and bandwidth at much lower energy and cost per bit of data. The integration of photonic interconnects will enable new network architectures and photonic network topologies that hold the potential to double overall datacenter efficiency over the next decade.

Project Innovation + Advantages: 

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.

Potential Impact: 

If successful, developments from ENLITENED projects will result in an overall doubling in datacenter energy efficiency in the next decade through deployment of new photonic network topologies.

Security: 

The United States is home to much of the world's datacenter infrastructure. Photonic networks add resilience that can bolster the energy security of this critical driver of economic activity.

Environment: 

Reducing the overall energy consumption of datacenters cuts energy-related emissions per bit of data processed or stored.

Economy: 

Photonic networks can lower the costs associated with operating datacenters, improving American economic competitiveness in this fast-developing area.

Contacts
ARPA-E Program Director: 
Dr. Michael Haney
Project Contact: 
Dr. Stephen Crago
Release Date: 
6/14/2017