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Chip Scale Review January • February • 2017


The future of packaging with silicon photonics

By Deborah Patterson

[Patterson Group, LLC]

; Isabel De Sousa, Louis-Marie Achard

[IBM Canada, Ltd.]

t has been almost a decade since the

introduction of the iPhone, a device

that so successfully blended sleek

hardware with an intuitive user interface

that it effectively jump-started a global shift

in the way we now communicate, socialize,

manage our lives and fundamentally

interact. Today, smartphones and countless

other devices allow us to capture, create

and communicate enormous amounts of

content. The explosion in data, storage

and information distribution is driving

extraordinary growth in internet traffic

and cloud services. The



“Trends driving data center growth,”

provides an appreciation for the incredible

increase in data generation and its

continued growth through 2020.

To process and manage the unabated

growth in data traffic, silicon photonics

will be used to define new data center

architectures. This article discusses the

impact that silicon photonics will have on

data center technology trends, and on the

next-generation microelectronic packaging

developments that address optical-to-

electrical interconnection as photon and

electron conversion moves to the level of the

package and microelectronic (logic) chip.

Data center dynamics

The large-scale restructuring of data

centers is one of the most dynamic

transformations taking place in information

technology. The need to re-architect the

data center is being propelled by the

staggering surge in shared and stored

data along with an increasing demand

to effectively interpret the tremendous

amounts of content being generated. In

addition to the huge growth in data traffic,

the infrastructure supporting the Internet

of Everything (IoE) will emphasize real-

time responsiveness between people and/or

objects. The next wave in data processing

and data traffic management will require

the ability to support cloud computing,

cognitive computing and big data analysis

along with the necessary speed and

capacity to deliver a timely response.

Op t i c s h a v e t r a d i t i o n a l l y b e e n

employed to transmit data over long

d i s t anc e s be c au s e l i gh t c an c a r r y

c o n s i d e r a b l y mo r e i n f o r m a t i o n

content (bits) at faster speeds. Optical

transmission becomes more energy

efficient as compared to electronic

alternatives when the transmission

length and bandwidth increase. As the

need for higher data transfer speeds at

greater baud rate and lower power levels

intensifies, the trend is for optics to

move closer to the die. Optoelectronic

interconnect is now being designed

to interface directly to the processor,

application specific integrated circuit

(ASIC) or field programmable gate

array (FPGA) to support switching,

transceiver, signal conditioning, and

mu l t i p l e x e r / d emu l t i p l e x e r (Mux /

Demux) applications.

Figure 1

shows a

forecast for silicon

photonics adoption

through 2025 with data

centers dominating

initial growth. Silicon

photonics are also being

developed to support

applications as diverse

as high-performance

computing and optical


The da t a cent er

need for speed and


Figure 2

illustrates forecasted

data center traffic by

2019. One of the more

notable trends is that

almost three-quarters

of all data center traffic

will originate from

within the data center.

The recognition of this

statistic, compounded

b y t h e e n o r m o u s

increase in data traffic,

has significantly altered

the approach to data

center design. Besides

u p g r a d i n g o p t i c a l

cabling, links and other interconnections,

the legacy data center, comprised of many

off-the-shelf components, is in the process

of a complete overhaul that is leading to

significant growth and change in how

transmit, receive, and switching functions

are handled, especially in terms of next-

generation Ethernet speeds. In addition,

as 5G ramps, high-speed interconnect

between data centers and small cells will

also come into play. These roadmaps

will fuel multi-fiber waveguide-to-chip

interconnect solutions, laser development,

and the application of advanced multi-chip

packaging within the segment.

The high-end or “Hyperscale” data center

is massive in both size and scalability. It

provides a single compute architecture

made up of small individual servers and


Figure 1:

Silicon photonics growth rates will initially be dominated by

applications within the data center. SOURCE: Yole Développement, Oct. 2016

Figure 2:

Data center traffic and bit rates show remarkable growth. The vast

majority of data center traffic will reside within the data center. SOURCE: Cisco

Global Cloud Index, 2014–2019