Prototype IBM optical network promises unprecedented access speed to data

March 4, 2008

IBM last week unveiled a prototype optical network technology that can allow massively large files — such as entire HD movies — to be accessed in less than one second.

Dubbed “green optical network technology” for its energy efficiency, the new technology uses light to send information at 8 trillion bits per second. Eight trillion bits per second is equivalent to about 5000 HD video streams. The power requirement for such a transmission would be the equivalent of that needed for a single 100W light bulb, the company said.

The new technology puts optical chips and optical data buses in a single package with standard components. Initially, IBM envisions the green networking technology to find applications in super computing, but the company sees the technology finding a home in several HD-related applications, including physicians collaborating on shared high-resolution medical imaging and people sharing HD files.

In HD file sharing applications, the technology could significantly increate the bandwidth of video servers. Web-serving sites that make videos available could use the optical networking technology to access libraries of millions of HD movies and video clips in seconds to speed access for users.

One year ago, the company unveiled an optical transceiver chip set that could transmit an HD movie in less than a second with the help of custom optical components, according to IBM researcher Clint Schow.

Schow, who is a member of the team that built the prototype, said that in the last year, the company has connected the prototype chips through printed circuit boards with densely integrated optical wiring.

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