Multichip arrays for supercomputers and high-end servers have long been hampered by the difficulty they encounter in transferring data from one processor to another. Standard electronic interconnects have nearly reached their throughput limits, and generate a fair amount of heat to boot.
Optical waveguides offer a much more efficient approach, but so far have required bulky hardware that makes them impractical for everyday use.
Now it seems that Sun Microsystems is close to a commercial optical system small enough to install in a blade server, a development that could significantly increase the performance of high-end multicore arrays.
The company recently gained a $44 million research grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to further its development of a photonic microchip interconnect system capable of transferring several billion bits per second within a multichip array.
Sun isn't alone in the pursuit of a workable optical waveguide. IBM is working on nanophotonic switch technology for light-based interconnects, and Intel and HP are also said to be working on various optical technologies as well.