The high data loads of the future - and even the present - require that optical communications platforms continue to get faster, leaner, and cheaper. At the Optical Fiber Communication Conference in Los Angeles today, IBM will report on a prototype optical chip it has developed that has hit a significant milestone in optical data transfer: one terabit - that's one trillion bits - per second.
That's like downloading 500 HD movies at once, a speed matching the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users at today's average high-speed Web rates. It's important to note that this a parallel optics chip technology, not a long-range fiber optic serial communications technology, so it's not going to instantaneously boost the speed at which data traverses the oceans. But between computers on a local network (between different servers in a data center, for instance) this technology could provide some pretty searing speeds.
The chip itself gets its name from the fact that there are 48 tiny holes bored through a standard silicon CMOS chip that connects on the back side with 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels. These channels allow a whole lot of data to move through the chip in both directions simultaneously, allowing for these terabit-per-second transfer speeds.
What's more, in proper IBM fashion the chip isn't some kind of behind-the-glass prototype never destined for commercial production. The company claims it achieves these record data speeds with excellent power efficiency - that a 100-watt light bulb could power 20 of the optical modules. They are also constructed from off-the-shelf, commercially available components. But there's no word yet on when, exactly, this manufacturer-friendly optical device might begin taking advantage of those economies of scale and deliver the next-generation of cloud computing and data center technologies.