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Enlightra illuminates the future path of data transmission

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There’s a lot of attention lately to bring data closer to where it’s needed, as moving it consumes a lot of power and contributes to latency. But data will always have to travel, and Enlightra, a Swiss startup participating in tech startup accelerator Y Combinator, thinks lasers are the answer.

Enlightra develops multi-color lasers to transmit data in a disruptive and efficient way for data centers. Lasers for data transmission are nothing new, company co-founder Maxim Karpov noted during a briefing with EE Times. But current laser technologies are approaching their limits in terms of achievable data rates and power efficiency.

With data centers globally exchanging 300 exabytes of data per month using lasers, predicted data center power consumption is expected to increase to consume one-fifth of the total global power supply by 2025.

“On average per day, all data centers around the world transmit about 10 million terabytes of data, and they have to run a lot of network equipment for that,” Karpov said. He explained that it will become increasingly difficult to efficiently scale the network in current data centers using electrical packet switches as data rates increase due to Moore’s Law slowing down.

To address this data growth and power consumption, Enlightra has developed multicolor lasers for high capacity data transmission and optical computing. These lasers are based on micro-comb technology, which Karpov and his co-founder John Jost have been leading for seven years as university researchers.

Because a microcomb can replace hundreds of high quality lasers used in today’s optical communications while being up to 10 times more energy efficient, it is possible to increase transmission rates by 30 times. of data with the same device size, Karpov said.

Enlightra’s optical microcombs are implemented as compact modules to replace the lasers currently used in data centers. The two central components of microcomb technology are a specially designed structure on a silicon chip and a single laser which are packaged together and subjected to special laser techniques.

The two main components of Enlightra’s microcomb technology are a specially designed structure on a silicon chip and a single laser that are packaged together and subjected to special laser techniques. (Source: Enlightra) (click image to enlarge)

Light from the initial laser is converted into tens to hundreds of laser lines at new wavelengths, each suitable for optical communication, Karpov said. “Instead of shining on a single laser tower and transmitting the data, our laser shines in multiple colors. It can essentially transmit multiple parallel data streams at the same time using a single optical fiber.

Together with many colleagues, Karpov has already published research results in Nature Communication, describing how optical circuit switches (OCS) based on tunable lasers and arrayed waveguide grating routers are quite promising due to the use of a passive core. The research demonstrates how ultra-fast microcomb-based OCS and solid-state optical amplifiers (SOAs) switch between wavelengths at nanosecond (ns) timescales to deliver high bandwidth, low network latency and an energy efficient and scalable data center network.

Since then, Karpov said, it became clear that there was interest in the company’s “turnkey” lasers, including purchase orders, and Enlightra tested prototypes in conjunction with Microsoft Research as well as with Mercer University.

Karpov partnered with Jost about 18 months ago and is optimistic about the long-term potential of lasers when it comes to improving data transmissions, including going so far as to replace PCIe, even on small distances due to their speed and power consumption.

“They’re not as limited as electronics,” Karpov said.

Gary Hilson is a general editor specializing in memory and flash technologies for EE Times.

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