Scientists fabricate energy-efficient switches for next-gen data centers

Business Technology

Data centers that are dedicated spaces for processing, storing, and disseminating data enable everything from cloud computing to video streaming. To do so, data centers consume large amount of energy with data transferred back and forth inside the center. With exponential rise in demand for data, the pressure on data centers to become more energy efficient is all time high.

Data centers house high-powered computers that communicate with each other through interconnects and servers. Use of light to communicate information with electrically operated optical switches that controls the flow of light, and thus information between servers is a way to reduce energy consumption of data centers. Nonetheless, optical switches need to be energy efficient and multi-functional to support continued extension of data centers.

In a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology, a team of scientists at the University of Washington report the design of a silicon-based, energy-efficient non-volatile switch that controls light using a graphene heater and phase-change material.

The platform extends the limit of energy efficiency, stated the corresponding co-author of the study. This technology would greatly decrease the energy needs of data centers to make them more environmental friendly and sustainable in comparison to what is presently being used in data centers to control photonic circuits.

Meanwhile, silicon photonic switches are used extensively because they can be manufactured using well-established semiconductor fabrication techniques.

Conventionally, these switches have been tuned up through thermal effect to change the optical properties of a material in the switch and thus change the path of light.

On the downside, the process is not energy efficient and the changes that are induces are not permanent. When current is stopped, the material reverts to its previous state and the connection is broken.

Edward Turner

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