A Perfect Storm: Bigger Data, Power Consumption and Bandwidth Driving Alternatives to Traditional CMOS Chipmaking Process

Almost five billion Internet users are using, creating and sharing ginormous amounts of data. 

Even as the amount and types of data increase, the number of opportunities to create and share data has exploded across devices ranging from home security systems, appliances, gaming systems, computers and phones to huge data centers that handle social media, streaming content, games and enterprise applications. A study by Ericcson notes there will be more than 42 billion connected IoT devices generating ~177 ZB of data (by 2026). 

One report notes that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day and 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. Much of that data has been driven by increases in almost four billion users of social media sites worldwide.

Not surprising, given remote learning and work-from-home, the ongoing pandemic has only further increased the world’s hunger for more data -and more bandwidth to share the data. According to one industry report, home data usage increased 38 percent from March 2019 to March 2020. The same report found that work-from-home increased during the pandemic from an average of 17 percent of workers to 44 percent, putting increased strain on networks and increasing data usage.  

Covid-19 also resulted in an increase of 138 percent in a group called power users consuming more than 1 terabyte of Internet data quarterly. Google alone counts more than 63,000 searches every second, or 5.6 billion daily searches.  

Sorry, this video requires cookie consent.

Please accept marketing-cookies to watch this video.

Amir Faintuch, SVP & GM, Computing & Wired Infrastructure SBU at GF explains why silicon photonics is a vital technology platform for the data revolution.

These factors do not begin to comprehend potential impacts of the emerging metaverse, which will demand the creation, storage and connectivity of even more data – data that will need to be transmitted with very low latency at high speeds. The metaverse joins AI, machine learning and virtual reality as well as the continued expansion of connected devices in driving data creation and transmission. 

In the data center, power consumption has become a key consideration along with bandwidth.  

Historically, the chip industry has relied on electrical connectivity over metal (copper) connections for interconnects between systems. Electrical SerDes (serial deserializers), the most common form of electrical I/O, is reaching its limits and there is no attainable roadmap beyond 112 Gb/sec because the large signal losses in copper-based interconnects at a board level make it difficult to transmit data further than a few centimeters at such a high data rate.  

The next wave of high-performance computing architectures requires a new form of I/O that avoid the bottlenecks created by electrical I/O. By 2028, most data center short-distance physical interconnects will be optical instead of electrical.  

The pluggable module has been the key widget that converts electrical signals to optical signals and vice versa i.e. it is the electro-optic interface. 

There have been two key advantages of pluggable modules: 

  • Standardization and interoperability – data center operators can source modules from multiple vendors which has driven down the “per Gbps” cost through innovation and competition. 
  • Modularity – data center operators can use short range optics to traverse to the end of a row of racks in a data center, and long-range optics to go longer distances to a different data center. 

This modularity has also driven the form factor and standardization of the switch boxes and the box faceplates into which these pluggable modules are plugged into. In a typical switch box at the top of a data center rack, multiple pluggable modules are plugged into the faceplate. The conversion from optical to electrical signals occurs at the faceplate with high-speed electrical signals having to traverse the Cu traces on the board to the switch ASIC. 

Optical communications solutions are poised to enable new levels of performance in hyperscale data centers, cloud computing and 5G-driven network transformation. The silicon photonics technology, used for optical communications, will also become the foundation for rapidly emerging compute and sensing applications. 

Look for our next installment in this series to understand the role of new options to combine the proven benefits of CMOS technology with new capabilities for more powerful chips based on silicon photonics.