Many people had been anticipating a future of all-optical computers connected via all-optical networks, a
nirvana of high performance combined with low error
rates and lower power consumption and heat dissipation.
We’re sorry to be naysayers, but you can stop holding
your breath waiting for this to happen.
WHERE NEX T?
All the same, one should not lose heart. There are plenty
of opportunities to exploit the wonderful characteristics
of optics in a hybrid electronic-optical world.
First, PICs have unleashed a tremendous surge in innovation. In 2005, the optical research community wrote a
report for the National Science Foundation on research
problems for the next five years and next 10 years. Three
years later, some of those research problems are solved
and in products! As a result, the amount of data we can
push through an individual fiber is increasing sharply.
We’re also able to manage that capacity with increasing
sophistication. These results are probably only the low-hanging fruit of what PICs have enabled, and we’re likely
to see more innovation in coming years. If your biggest
concern is getting lots of bandwidth with low error rates,
the future looks very good indeed.
Second, optical logic continues to develop new
capabilities. We offer two examples to show the range of
work. At Harvard a few years ago, researchers were able
to slow and then stop (hold stationary) a pulse of light.
The immediately visible opportunities are for better optical memories and to manage data rates inside a device.
More opportunities will no doubt appear. A much more
concrete effort is the DARPA-funded OAWG (Optical
Arbitrary Waveform Generation) program. OAWG seeks
to build radically improved optical transceivers, capable
of producing optical pulses that are more coherent and
have less noise. These transceivers would allow us to pack
more optical channels into a fiber, because we would
need smaller gaps between channel frequencies to protect
ourselves from cross-channel noise.
In summary, the future of optical technology is bright.
It just isn’t taking the path to the future that many of us
imagined or hoped for. Q
LOVE IT, HATE IT? LET US KNOW
CHARLES BEELER is a venture-capital investor with El
Dorado Ventures, where his primary focus is on companies with the potential to radically change the capabilities,
cost/performance, and energy efficiency of data centers and
enterprise computing environments. Beeler has also served
as a partner at Piper Jaffray Ventures, helping to manage
technology funds, and at Scripps Ventures. He received a
bachelor’s degree in economics from Colby College and an
MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
DR. CRAIG PARTRIDGE is a former chair of ACM SIG-COMM and, long ago, was editor-in-chief of ACM Computer
Communication Review. An ACM Fellow, he is chief scientist
for networking research at BBN Technologies.
© 2009 ACM 1542-7730 /09/0200 $5.00
Dealing with Big Data
coming soon on acmqueue