While the so-called big data revolution is still not so obvious to people at large, it certainly is happening. In 2009, global data generation amounted to some 0.79 zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes). With the continued development of cloud computing, the increase in numbers of connected devices and the advent of the Internet of Things, this figure is expected to reach 73.5 zettabytes by 2020 – that is, a 4 300 % growth.
One thing that isn’t changing much, however, is the way this data is stored and transferred. Which is becoming more and more of a problem: Bandwidth-limited electrical interconnects have reached their limits, and the 10 Pflops benchmark for computer performance has only been reached at the expense of excessive power consumption. While researchers generally agree that replacing electrical interconnects with optical ones is the best option, photonic devices are faced with their own limitation: they cannot reach the level of compactness of their electronic counterparts.
Completed in late March, the PLATON project successfully overcame all these problems by demonstrating a new SOI (Silicon-on-insulator) platform with integrated nanophotonic, plasmonic and microelectronic components. Not only is such combination of photonics with plasmonics a first, but it also allows for further reductions in circuit size, terabit per second (Tb/s) optical routing and increased energy efficiency.
Two years ago, PLATON researchers had already gathered interest from the specialised press by demonstrating active plasmonics in a wavelength-division-multiplexed (WDM) data switching application. They had developed the smallest-ever Dielectric Loaded Surface Plasmon Polariton (DLSPP) switches, capable of routing real data for BladeServer and backplane optical interconnects with very a small footprint, very low power consumption and negligible latency thanks to a novel material called Cyclomer.
‘Plasmonics is introduced for the first time in WDM switching applications,’ Nikos Pleros, professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and PLATON project coordinator told LaserFocusWorld at the time. ‘Combined with their small footprint, these devices pave the way for a new “beyond silicon photonics” era in integrated photonics, where circuit designers can choose at will the best solution for IC performance optimization between electrical and optical signals. Continuing progress in plasmonic technology may lead to the necessary broadband, ultra-small, and low-energy network-on-chip solutions required by computing environments.’
These WDM switches have now been used as building blocks on the Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) compatible SOI manufactured by project partner AMO, which also features a cavity as an interface for the integration of the plasmonic devices and two 8×1 MUX/DEMUX structures yielding a record performance of 40 % in terms of high-bandwidth versus channel density ratio.
All in all, PLATON results ideally blend the small size and low power switching capabilities of plasmonics with the low loss of silicon and processing capacity of electronics to provide miniaturized and power efficient, Tb/s photonic interconnect routers for ultra-performance data communications.
The project ran from January 2010 to March 2015. It was coordinated by the Greek Centre for Research and Technology Hellas. Other partners included Fraunhofer in Berlin, the Syddansk Universitet Denmark, the University of Burgundy in France, the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems in Greece and AMO GmbH, based in Aachen.
For further information, please visit: