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

Electrical Efficiency

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Program Description:

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.

Innovation Need:

Currently, datacenters account for about 2.5 percent of U.S. electricity consumption, sufficient to power every household in New York City twice over. Furthermore, this amount is projected to double in about eight years. To achieve future datacenter performance requirements, metal interconnects can be increasingly replaced by photonic technologies. Photonic interconnects use light—photons—instead of electrons used by metal interconnects to send and receive information between components, allowing information to move much faster using dramatically less energy per bit of data. So far, the transition to photonic technologies has been limited by high cost, and improvements in cooling, power delivery, and electronic processor chips have failed to significantly slow the current growth trend. Enabling new network designs and data management protocols through advanced integrated photonics systems represents an opportunity for transformative improvement. ENLITENED targets the efficiency of datacenters by developing packaged integrated photonic technologies and the network topologies enabled by them.

Potential Impact:

If successful, developments from ENLITENED will result in an overall doubling in datacenter energy efficiency in 10 years through deployment of new photonic network topologies.


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.


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


Improving datacenter efficiency reduces costs associated with operating these installations, improving American economic competitiveness in this fast-developing area.


Program Director:
Dr. Olga Spahn;Dr. Laurent Pilon;Dr. James Zahler
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Project Listing

• Ayar Labs - Optical Communication System
• Columbia University - Integrated Photonic Networks
• IBM T.J. Watson Research Center - Multi-Wavelength Optical Transceivers
• IBM T.J. Watson Research Center - Optical Network using Photonic Switches
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Seamless Interconnect Networks
• University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) - IceNet Network Topology
• University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego) - Lightwave Networks for Datacenters
• University of California, Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara) - Coherent Wavelength Switched Co-packaged Optics to Disrupt Datacenters/HPC
• University of California, Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara) - Photonic Integration for Datacenters
• University of Southern California (USC) - Photonic Project Evaluation