Integrating Racks of Optical Gear onto a Single Chip

Achievement date: 

A team of researchers has managed to integrate onto a single chip what amounts to racks of networking equipment. The team at the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) with headquarters at the University of Arizona and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) as a partner, essentially converted bulky optical switching components into scalable, silicon photonic chips. 


Moving the many components—including switches, filters, and control and monitoring elements—into a single chip offers the potential to scale optical switches with the cost-effectiveness of silicon-based electronics. Optical switching has high capacity, but in the past has proven too expensive and unwieldy for data centers, which are crucial to delivering higher-quality video and cloud services at greater speeds.


Traffic inside data centers is growing at much higher rates than the traffic in and out of the centers, requiring more networking gear to support it. While computing hardware benefits from efficient and cost-effective scaling, based on Moore’s Law of electronics, optical gear has not followed the same trajectory. Moving optical networking gear to a scalable platform such as photonic integrated chips will enable data centers to better manage their increased traffic.


The network node chips were the result of a unique collaboration between the CIAN team at UCSD led by Prof. Shayan Mookherjea and Sandia National Labs to develop scalable manufacturing for photonic chips. The highly successful first set of chips included the switching node with an optical channel monitor, add/drop multiplexers, and switches. The chip was demonstrated in network using 20x10 gigabit per second data signals, transmitted with fidelity.