More Optics Head for the Data Center

Nuclei Systems, a Chinese RISC-V processor vendor, announced a licensable RISC-V CPU core certified for ASIL D automotive applications, the most stringent level.
Bryon Moyer
Bryon Moyer

Amid expectations of increasingly pervasive optics in the data center, two projects provide specific examples of fiber’s potential benefits. Addressing different scenarios—graph analytics and CXL—they feature optical technology as an enabler of better power efficiency.

One project involving Intel and Ayar Labs creates a network that accelerates access to widely dispersed memory for graph-processing applications such as those employed by social-media companies examining a broad range of relationships. The research has implications for any application where frequent remote memory access is a bottleneck. Pursuant to a Darpa project, its goal was to boost petabyte-analytics performance by 1000×. Intel designed a new die that combines electrical processing and networking and delivers signals for optical transport; Ayar Labs provided optical-I/O chiplets that include conversion to and from the optical domain.

The other project, from Lightelligence, demonstrates the performance benefit of accessing remote coherent memory via CXL over fiber. The company’s Photowave cards convert PCIe/CXL signals between optical and electrical domains; fiber extends the distance over which remote memory access is practical. Inference results fell by around 25% using a 10 meter connection to remote memory compared with running from system memory.

Intel plans no near-term products using the chip it designed, but the project lays out a possible direction for improving large-scale graph analysis. Lightelligence, by contrast, offers its cards today; they plug into PCIe/CXL ports and handle the optical aspects of the design. Ayar Labs’ contribution to the Intel project also involved products available today.

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