intel ces tree

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Silicon photonics!

The phrase itself smacks of the future — the Star Trek, Iron Man future of cool-sounding technobabble and powerful gadgets. But it’s actually more reality than technobabble, as Intel showed today at the Open Compute Summit in Santa Clara, Calif.

Intel announced at the summit it is open-sourcing its silicon photonics technology, a specific hardware innovation that would be more cost-efficient as well as faster and more reliable for transferring data.


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The technology could be used to give the entire Internet a boost of bandwidth with tiny, low-power devices.

Intel describes silicon photonics generally as “a new approach to using light (photons) to move huge amounts of data at very high speeds with extremely low power over a thin optical fiber rather than using electrical signals over a copper cable.”

The hardware company has spent the past two years working on its silicon photonics designs; today, it said it has developed production-ready engineering samples.

Facebook hardware chief Frank Frankovsky said in a blog post on the summit’s news that the technology would “enable 100 Gbps interconnects — enough bandwidth to serve multiple processor generations.

“This technology also has such low latency that we can take components that previously needed to be bound to the same motherboard and begin to spread them out within a rack.”

Intel’s prototype is a demonstration of the company’s photonic rack architecture for interconnecting compute, storage, and network resources, allowing the elements to be disaggregated in the rack and thus upgradable independent of one another — a main focus of the Open Compute Summit today. Intel will open-source its designs for enabling a photonic receptacle via OCP.

In a separate announcement, Intel reps said the silicon-based hardware “provides a distinct cost advantage over older optical technologies in addition to providing greater speed, reliability, and scalability benefits.

“Businesses with server farms or massive data centers could eliminate performance bottlenecks and ensure long-term upgradability while saving significant operational costs in space and energy.”

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