Strategic collaborations fuel future photonics growth

March 16, 2022
Ayar Labs and HPE discuss the photonics-based efforts to revolutionize computing by moving data with light, better enabling high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions.

As companies within the evolving photonics space embrace the idea of integrated offerings designed to meet specific application needs, the need for strategic partnerships will intensify. A quick look at recent activity at Santa Clara, CA-based Ayar Labs shows the producer of chip-to-chip optical I/O technology is aggressively pursuing collaborative opportunities—the type of relationships capable of positioning the organization to thrive in the future.

For instance, on March 9, Ayar Labs announced a strategic collaboration with Lumentum to deliver CW-WDM MSA-compliant external laser sources in high volume. These light sources are critical to power Ayar Labs’ optical I/O solution, which delivers breakthrough bandwidth, energy efficiency, and latency benefits for computing and networking over current short-reach copper links today. This news came on the heels of another collaboration involving Ayar Labs’ ongoing work with Global Foundries, which expands to include Broadcomm, Cisco Systems, Marvell, NVIDIA, Lightmatter, PsiQuantum, Ranovus, and Xanadu to address the needs of next-generation datacenters.

In late February, Ayar Labs also announced its strategic arrangement with computing giant Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), work focused on revolutionizing computing by moving data with light, better enabling high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. Read on as Marten Terpstra, senior director of product management for the high performance networks, HPC and AI business groups at Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Hugo Saleh, senior vice president of commercial operations and managing director of Ayar Labs UK discuss their strategic collaborations.

Laser Focus World: How do you see this technology effectively impacting HPC?

Saleh: As the industry enters the exascale era, electrical-based networking offerings will eventually reach bandwidth limits, creating challenges in latency and overall application performance. At the same time, future data-intensive HPC and AI workloads will continue to demand increased flexibility, efficiency, performance, and throughput. Optical I/O is foundational to enabling emerging heterogeneous computer systems, disaggregated/pooled designs, and unified memory architectures that are critical to accelerating future innovation.

With the combination of Ayar Labs optical I/O and HPE’s Slingshot, the teams are well positioned to design next-generation, high-performance networking solutions and novel disaggregated system architectures that are critical to meet these demands.

LFW: As HPE integrates this technology into its offering, what applications will it enable?

Terpstra: We are about 12 generations away from reaching a limitation to run high-speed signals over electrical paths, over required distances and power utilization. Optical I/O provides an alternative to addressing the limitations of electrical, copper-based I/O by delivering integrated optical technology that uses light instead of electrical signals to transmit data.

This will allow longer distance, higher speed, and lower power and latency communications that enables disaggregated memory and GPU architectures. These, in turn, will improve application performance overall to create far more effective HPC and AI training model performance, with systems that are more cost-effective and flexible in how they are being used, and how resources, such as memory and GPU/CPU cycles, are being dynamically allocated.

LFW: What challenges remain?

Saleh: Building the right products at the right time for customer consumption. Ultimately, we want to build the product that meets the customers’ needs and that the customers will buy. Working together, we need to figure out the optimal solution.

For broad adoption of optical-based technology that will allow the industry to flourish, we need to ensure there are standards in place and build out an ecosystem for adoption. We believe the combination of the industry leader in servers with the leader in chip-to-chip optical communications is the right team to build the ecosystem needed to make the shift to the optical era of computing.

LFW: What do you see as the keys to reaching the next level?

Saleh: The combination of Ayar Labs’ optical technology ecosystem partnerships with HPE’s advanced system architecture supply chain is key to accelerating the adoption and delivery of optical I/O at scale, leading to unique, disaggregated system architecture design for the future of HPC and AI.

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Market Leader/Group Editorial Director, Laser & Military

Peter Fretty began his role as the Market Leader, Laser & Military in June 2023; the group encompasses the Laser Focus World, Military & Aerospace Electronics, and Vision Systems Design brands. He also serves as Group Editorial Director, Laser & Military (effective spring 2023) and served as Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World since October 2021. Prior to that, he was Technology Editor for IndustryWeek for two years.

As a highly experienced journalist, he has regularly covered advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

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