Optical technologies for data communication in large parallel systems

M. B. Ritter, Y. Vlasov, J. A. Kash, A. Benner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Large, parallel systems have greatly aided scientific computation and data collection, but performance scaling now relies on chip and system-level parallelism. This has happened because power density limits have caused processor frequency growth to stagnate, driving the new multi-core architecture paradigm, which would seem to provide generations of performance increases as transistors scale. However, this paradigm will be constrained by electrical I/O bandwidth limits; first off the processor card, then off the processor module itself. We will present best-estimates of these limits, then show how optical technologies can help provide more bandwidth to allow continued system scaling. We will describe the current status of optical transceiver technology which is already being used to exceed off-board electrical bandwidth limits, then present work on silicon nanophotonic transceivers and 3D integration technologies which, taken together, promise to allow further increases in off-module and off-card bandwidth. Finally, we will show estimated limits of nanophotonic links and discuss breakthroughs that are needed for further progress, and will speculate on whether we will reach Exascale-class machine performance at affordable powers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberC01012
JournalJournal of Instrumentation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Data acquisition circuits
  • Hardware and accelerator control systems
  • Special cables

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mathematical Physics
  • Instrumentation

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