What AI demands mean for data centers

Nov. 28, 2023
The 2023 Photonics-Enabled Cloud Computing Summit assembled by Optica took an aggressive approach to calling out the limitations of today’s current technologies.

When Optica assembled more than 200 global leaders from the full value chain for the 2023 Photonics-Enabled Cloud Computing (PECC) Summit, spirited discussions were inevitable. From the reliability and speed of optical solutions to growing bandwidth and capacity to address rapid scaling, the Summit took an aggressive approach to calling out the limitations of today’s current technologies.

But it wasn’t simply a pain point session, nor did it spark debate for debate’s sake. The Summit was designed to foster transparent conversations that can help to lead to real solutions. With no recordings to hinder exchanges, open dialogue flowed, and attendees were able to drill down on the true challenges of the growing data-driven landscape, carving out initial steps of the path forward.

For instance, artificial intelligence (AI) might be a great enabler, but it also has become a roadblock where data is concerned. Its rise has placed huge bandwidth and energy demands on servers everywhere. To cope with the tremendous load that solutions like ChatGPT bring to the IT world, leaders need to design ultra-fast interconnects in data centers, achieving 1.6 Tbit/s up to 3.2 Tbit/s combined, with very low power consumption. And attendees leaned into silicon photonics to address that vision. 

Industry leaders emphasized that when it comes to AI, there are defined specifications to address, and silicon photonics seems to be the key. But current market-ready products aren’t capable of filling that gap: Companies will need to seek out new materials to enhance existing silicon photonic solutions—and they will need to be developed in a way that makes them reliable and easy to use. Consider, for example, a scenario wherein there’s an ecosystem for the die attach in silicon photonics and ways to fabricate a die-to-die interconnection.

And as problem-solving ideas emerge, the only way to test them is to engage the full value chain. Foundries, components, and material manufacturers all are deploying or preparing to deploy new innovative answers to chief constraints—but, in many cases, development has happened in a vacuum. One cog on the wheel doesn’t know what the others created and vice versa. To address the full scope of the issues plaguing data today, the industry needs to cast a much wider net. While proprietary technology is a corporate necessity, collaboration across the supply chain will be essential to fully develop the ecosystem for photonic-enabled cloud computing.

A chief secret learned from Silicon Valley is that innovation requires two pivotal components: first, the backing of large corporations, and second, the disruptive technology and vision of small startups. Having both players at the table means that the best ideas come forward, combining the expertise of the tech giants with the open thinking of entrepreneurs.

So, let’s continue to democratize the discussion, bringing big corporations and small enterprises together at the Optica Executive Forum at OFC 2024. Taking place March 25th in San Diego, this event will pick up where the PECC Summit left off—identifying next-generation solutions that don’t just respond to today’s requirements, but anticipate where the industry will be in five or 10 years. 

Because as the pace of change escalates, photonic technologies need to keep up with demand. Right now, AI is a chief data drain, but what’s next on the horizon, and what will the industry need to do to prepare? That’s the right question to be asking as the industry looks to evolve not just to meet today’s requirements, but to prepare for tomorrow’s potential.

About the Author

Jose Pozo | Chief Technology Officer, Optica

Jose Pozo joined Optica in March 2022, and has spent more than 25 years working in photonics. He earned a PhD in quantum physics from the University of Bristol (U.K.), and an M.Sc. and B.Eng. in telecom engineering from UPNA, Spain / VUB (Belgium). Prior to joining the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC) in 2015 as CTO, Jose was a Senior Photonics Technology Consultant with PNO Consultants, with some of the main accounts such as CERN, Thales, and TE Connectivity. He has worked at TNO, The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, and as a postdoctoral researcher at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he contributed to the early development of EFFECT Photonics.

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