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Intel Turns to Light Beams to Speed Up Supercomputers

IDG News Service (11/17/14) Agam Shah

Intel has developed Thunderbolt, technology that uses optical cables and light pulses to move data in supercomputers, yielding potentially massive advances in high-performance computing. “If all your compute nodes are connected via photonics, it does start to make application performance look different,” says Intel’s Charlie Wuischpard. Thunderbolt uses light to connect computers to peripherals such as external hard drives at about 20 Gbps. In addition, Intel has developed an optical connector called MXC that can transfer data at speeds of up to 1.6 Tbps between servers. Analyst Nathan Brookwood says optics will facilitate performance advances while lowering power consumption, as the technology requires “a lot less power to send the signal in any arbitrary distance.” He notes although optical interfaces have been expensive to build, Intel has developed a cost-effective way to connect transmitters and receivers to systems. “Silicon photonics is technology whose time is coming,” Brookwood says. Optical technology also is important in surpassing the milestone of exascale computing. Intel says it wants to build a 1-exaflop supercomputer by 2022 that can fit in a 20-megawatt data center.

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