Rockley Photonics touts technology for scaling data centre networks

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Start-up Rockley Photonics, the next venture of Bookham Technology (now Oclaro) founder Andrew Rickman, announced that it has demonstrated ‘breakthrough technology’ that will enable operators to create a new generation of mega data centres using optical switching within the heart of their network.

The market they are aiming for is data traffic in cloud data centres – a sector valued in excess of $10 billion. Mega data centres may require 1000 times more bandwidth than that deployed today in order to keep up with demand for Internet services over the next 10 years, the start-up says.

‘Major operators tell us that they are on red alert when it comes to scaling the network to support their future data centre requirements,” said Rickman, who has taken up the role of chief executive officer at the start-up. ‘They will need an extraordinary expansion in bandwidth to keep up with demands on the Internet and they need to do it economically and power efficiently. Today, they don’t have a solution for that.’

Technology details are sparse. Engineers at Rockley Photonics will apply integrated electronics and photonics in silicon – aiming to get the best out of each technology – in a way that will ‘transform the design of future data centres, supporting higher data rates at significantly lower cost and power’.

Rickman said: ‘We have now demonstrated the ability to combine photonics and electronics in a unique architecture, which will enable us to simplify switch design, create vastly more scalable networks using much larger switches, and drive down the cost per bit while substantially reducing power consumption.’

Rockley Photonics is now prototyping its architecture using programmable chips (FPGAs) and custom photonic devices to prove the concept of scalable optical packet switching in a realistic system environment. The company does not intend to manufacture the chips itself, but will follow a fabless model.

Once it has fully evaluated the scalable system architecture, the start-up will move the design from its prototyping platform to system chips for production purposes. Commercial availability of these products is scheduled for 2017.

Rickman and Aaron Zilkie co-founded Rockley Photonics in August 2013, on conclusion of their time at integrated photonics company Kotura, which was acquired by Mellanox for $82 million.

With offices in Oxford, UK and engineering operations in Pasadena, California, US, the company closed a Series A funding round of ‘several million’ in April 2014.


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