Cisco Systems Inc. is applying silicon photonics not only to 100Gbit/s modules, but to its own ASICs as well.
That was one of the many tech snippets Cisco discussed at its Editors Conference, an information session held Wednesday in San Jose, Calif., for the press. More than a dozen executives took the stage to talk about their domains inside Cisco, and silicon photonics was brought up by David Ward, a Cisco CTO and chief architect.
In public, Ward has mostly spoken about Cisco's software-defined networking (SDN) initiatives. But given the option to pick favorite technologies to tell reporters about, he chose to deviate from SDN for a few minutes to talk about silicon photonics, which he called "absolutely the most interesting thing going on in ASIC technology today."
David Ward famously gives his talks while pacing in his socks
Optical chip-to-chip connections will definitely be a factor in Cisco's next-generation ASICs, and the company already has the technology working in the lab, Ward told Light Reading.
Cisco got its silicon photonics expertise last year by acquiring Lightwire, which was aiming its silicon photonics at optical modules. Sometime this year, Cisco is expected to formally announce the CPAK format for 100Gbit/s pluggable modules, an alternative to the CFP and CFP2 standards.
The more commonly mentioned aspect of silicon photonics, though, is the technology's potential in chip-to-chip interconnect. Intel Corp. is particularly interested in using silicon photonics to boost the input/output density on future chips, because lasers could do the job without pushing power consumption and heat to unreasonable levels.
Ward brought up an ancillary benefit: "Because these are much smaller packages for the amount of I/O bandwidth that they have and they use much less power, we now can combine more feature logic into the chip, [rather] than just I/O logic."
Cisco has a vested interest in ASIC advances, because it's staking much of its future on a continued churn-out of ASICs. Asked by Light Reading on Wednesday how much longer Cisco expects ASIC-driven equipment to be vital to networking, Senior Vice President Rob Lloyd said, "Forever."
Software will be increasingly important, too, but Cisco is convinced that mobility and cloud-based applications will intensify the need for ASIC-based processing throughout the network.