Switching Up

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Whenever you go onto your Facebook or LinkedIn page, banks of servers at enormous kilometer-long data centers that make up the cloud spring into action, gathering data. The various types of data live on different servers, so a tremendous amount of communication takes place between servers to assemble the package you’re presented as a user. Providing that service to billions of users requires many millions of servers and a great deal of energy.

Not surprisingly, Facebook and other digital giants are always looking for faster and more-efficient ways to store, fetch, and distribute all that data, which, for much of its journey, moves at the speed of light via fiber-optic cable. But there are bottlenecks in the data-storage-and-retrieval system created by copper-wired switches that link servers to each other and to the fiber-optic system. All that copper creates inefficiencies — which in turn produce heat, which requires more electricity to remove — that waste energy and slow the speed of data transmission. 

Now, a team of researchers in the UCSB College of Engineering has received a Department of Energy (DOE) grant for $4.4 million to develop integrated photonics technology that will make it possible to incorporate photonics right onto the switch chip, eliminating the need for comparatively inefficient copper wiring. The team includes principal investigator Clint Schow and fellow electrical and computer engineering faculty members and co-PI’s Adel Saleh, Jim Buckwalter, Jonathan Klamkin, and Larry Coldren, plus about a dozen graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. 

The team projects at least a 90-percent reduction in network power usage in both small- and large-scale systems, and a 200- to 600-percent increase in the overall efficiency of data-center transactions. 

Related People: 
Jonathan Klamkin, Clint Schow, James Buckwalter, Larry Coldren