Sub-microsecond Switch Promises More Efficient Data Centers

Achievement date: 

Building on their earlier development of a networking switch with massive numbers of ports, researchers now have the ports switching at sub-microsecond speeds. Switching many ports at such rates promises more efficient Internet pathways, as developed by a team at the Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) based at the University of Arizona.


Optical switches are crucial to boosting the size and speed of today’s massive data centers. Achieving high speed and port counts on a single silicon chip promises optical switches at low cost, power and size, enabling continued growth in the Internet’s cloud, data, and video applications.


Many Internet data flows are only a few microseconds or less in duration. Moving to sub-microsecond switching speeds, one of several factors that determine the full the switching time, enables more applications to benefit from the high capacity of photonics instead of electronics.

Already practical using today’s 3D MEMS switching technology, the CIAN research showed that increasing the size or number of optical switches and their speed can lead to even greater benefits.


CIAN researchers at the University of California-Berkeley had earlier announced a massive, 150-port silicon, photonic cross-bar switch. Now, with a new switching design, they are reporting sub- microsecond switching times. They designed an optical crossbar switch with 50 input and 50 output waveguides, all integrated on a chip that is 7.6x7.6 mm in size. In each of the 2,500 switching cells, a pair of optical couplers is integrated with MEMS actuators.