IBM Prototype Achieves Internet Speeds Up to 400G bps

Big Blue's ultra-fast analog-to-digital converter (ADC) could transfer big data between clouds and data centers four times faster than existing technology.

IBM announced a technological breakthrough that will help improve Internet speeds to 200 to 400 gigabits per second at extremely low power.

The speed boost is based on a device that can be used to improve transferring big data between clouds and data centers four times faster than current technology, company officials said. At this speed, 160 gigabytes, the equivalent of a two-hour, 4K ultra-high-definition movie or 40,000 songs, could be downloaded in only a few seconds, IBM said. The device was presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco Feb. 9 to 13.

Although this latest technology is only a lab prototype, a previous version of the design has been licensed to Semtech, a provider of analog and mixed-signal semiconductors. The company is using the technology to develop advanced communications platforms expected to be announced later this year.

As big data and Internet traffic continue to grow exponentially, future networking standards have to support higher data rates. For example, in 1992, 100G bytes of data was transferred per day, whereas today, traffic has grown to two exabytes per day, a 20 million fold increase. To support the increase in traffic, scientists at IBM Research and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) have been developing ultra-fast and energy-efficient analog-to-digital converter (ADC) technology to enable complex digital equalization across long-distance fiber channels.

An ADC converts analog signals to digital, approximating the right combination of zeroes and ones to digitally represent the data so it can be stored on computers and analyzed for patterns and predictive outcomes.

For example, scientists will use hundreds of thousands of ADCs to convert the analog radio signals that originated from the Big Bang 13 billion years ago to digital. It is part of Dome, a collaboration between ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, DOME-South Africa and IBM to develop a fundamental IT road map for the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), an international project to build the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescope.

The radio data that the SKA collects from deep space is expected to produce 10 times the global Internet traffic, and the prototype ADC would be an ideal candidate to transport the signals fast and at very low power—a critical requirement, considering the thousands of antennas that will be spread over 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles), IBM said.

"Our ADC supports IEEE standards for data communication and brings together speed and energy efficiency at 32 nanometers, enabling us to start tackling the largest big data applications," said Dr. Martin Schmatz, systems department manager at IBM Research. "With Semtech as our partner, we are bringing our previous generation of the ADC to market less than 12 months since it was first developed and tested."

Semtech signed a nonexclusive technology licensing agreement, including access to patented designs and technological know-how, with IBM to develop the technology for its own family of products, ranging from optical and wireline communications to advanced radar systems.

The 64 GS/s (giga-samples per second) chips for Semtech will be manufactured at IBM's 300mm fab in East Fishkill, N.Y., in a 32-nm silicon-on-insulator (SOI) CMOS process. The full dual-channel 2x64 GS/s ADC core generates 128 billion analog-to-digital conversions per second, with a total power consumption of 2.1 watts.

"Through leveraging the IBM 32nm SOI process with its unique feature set, we are developing products that are well-suited for meeting the challenge presented by the next step in high-performance communications systems such as 400G-bps optical systems and advanced radar systems," said Craig Hornbuckle, chief systems architect at Semtech, in a statement. "We are also seeing an expanding range of applications in the existing radio-frequency communications marketplace, where high-speed digital logic is replacing functions that have been traditionally performed by less flexible analog circuitry."

The technological details of the latest ADC have been published in a paper with the EPFL and presented at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC).

IBM recently completed the acquisition of Aspera, a provider of technology that advances the transfer of large files to securely speed the movement of massive data files around the world.

Aspera's high-speed transfer technology reduces transmission times for large files or data sets by up to 99.9 percent--potentially cutting a 26-hour transfer of a 24GB file, sent halfway around the world, down to just 30 seconds, IBM said. Aspera's patented fasp technology overcomes inherent bottlenecks in broadband wide-area networks that slow the transfer of extremely large files such as high-definition video or scientific research files, over distance.