GalayOr's Flights of Fancy

An all-optical motherboard is one of several concepts the MEMS startup is pursuing

March 26, 2003

4 Min Read
GalayOr's Flights of Fancy

ATLANTA -- OFC 2003 -- These days, the OFC Conference emphasizes practicality over sci-fi dreaming, but it's still fun to hear about the occasional out-there project.

Like this one from Israeli startup GalayOr Networks: all-optical motherboards it's developing for two clients. One is the shadowy Infinera Inc., the other an unnamed semiconductor vendor that wants an all-optical motherboard for computers.

Let's start on a more down-to-earth level. GalayOr's real-life product is a moveable waveguide that provides a quick means of optical alignment or attenuation.

GalayOr's entire device is made in silicon -- in fact, its packaging is silicon, with the fiber running up to the side of what is essentially a silicon box. Silicon waveguides have been decried as too "lossy" compared with silica, but GalayOr claims it's gotten around that problem.

"The main challenge is the insertion loss going in and out of the silicon waveguide," says CEO Uri Geiger. He says GalayOr's design has gotten that loss down to 0.7 dB, on a par with silica.

The 20-person company started in mid-2000 with Dan Haronian, a former Cornell University post-doc who established a MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) program at Tel Aviv University. He teamed up with venture investor Geiger in hopes of commercializing his technology. GalayOr's funding history includes an $8 million round in 2001 and a few million more from product-development partners such as Analog Devices Inc. (NYSE: ADI).

So what can be made of these movable waveguides? GalayOr's first product is a variable optical attenuator (VOA) equipped with 1 percent PIN taps and an optical monitor, so that the device can continually adjust itself. GalayOr has given the VOA to a few partners, but real sampling won't start until July.

Another near-term application is a protected receiver, being developed with a large company that Geiger wouldn't disclose. The idea is to prevent a surge of power from saturating the transimpedance amplifier (TIA) on the receiving end. GalayOr's device could act as a cushion, attenuating any power surges down to a safe level. GalayOr is also working on a 1x2 protection switch, which should sample by the end of the year, and an optical add/drop multiplexer, which Geiger expects to sample next year and demonstrate at OFC 2004, in Los Angeles.

But the most tantalizing of GalayOr's ideas is the all-optical motherboard.

The company even had one at its booth, highlighted by the first public display of an Infinera chip -- a laser array, made of "some material other than silicon," as Geiger described it. (Naturally, Geiger and his staff weren't about to give away the secrets Infinera has kept for so long. See Infinera Shoots for the Moon for more on Infinera.)

There wasn't much more to the display, however, as its main purpose was to show, via a microscope, the moving parts inside GalayOr's device -- and to "prove" that the company's optical board was real.

The other optical-board client is keeping mum, too. It's launched a seven-year program to develop an all-optical PC motherboard, with interconnects shuttling light rather than electricity from chip to chip. This, of course, implies that the company has plans for an optical microprocessor and optical memory chips, which would likely be non-silicon parts fitted into cavities on the board.

GalayOr's doing just the interconnect piece, and so far it's building prototype boards on its own dime. If the concept works out, this optical PC company will contract GalayOr for the project and give the startup some funding as well. "We need to meet an acceptance goal this year for them to finance this," Geiger says.

The optical PC is a long-standing dream that won't necessarily come true with this project. Peter Glaskowsky, analyst with In-Stat/MDR, notes that such a development could be decades off. Even if it happens it would be a "95 percent" optical PC, as there'll probably be something non-optical in there to generate the photons, he says.

OK, fine -- so when might we get the 95 percent optical PC? "Could be not in our lifetime," Glaskowsky says. "I don't think seven years is going to get us to an all-optical motherboard." (Lifetime estimate of seven years? Jeez, Pete, lighten up!)

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

For up-to-date information about the coming OFCConference, please visit Light Reading’s Unauthorized OFC Site.

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