Silicon photonics, where photonic subsystems use a silicon as optical medium for signal transmission, is the solution that Intel chose to implement in its next-generation server rack technology.
The world isn't quite ready for optical central processing units, though the technology should be ready for testing in a few years.
That doesn't go for optical interconnects though. In fact, Intel has based its new Silicon Photonics server technology on them.
In the chip giant's view, one of the biggest problems with servers today, and by extension data centers, is that the server rack needs to include all features of a system.
Intel's 100 Gbps Intel Silicon Photonics and Disaggregation Efficiencies make it possible to separate some of those resources.
Chipzilla has essentially offered a means to distribute compute, storage, networking, power distribution and discrete modules among different physical containers, so to speak.
If the idea catches on, not only will space efficiency be easier to achieve, but data centers will become more flexible, reliable and easy to upgrade, not to mention cheaper to build and maintain.
It is easier, for instance, to change or add a hard drive to a NAS-like holder than to pull out the whole rack and leaf through it.
So far, Intel has only demonstrated one prototype of a photonic receptacle to the Open Compute Project (OCP), which AMD is involved in as well, and which Facebook has a big stake in, having kickstarted the open-source hardware industry.
In addition to Xeon CPUs, the 22nm next-generation Atom series will be eligible too (Avoton). Intel Ethernet switch silicon will be present in all cases, and the switching functions will be distributed by role.
"Intel and Facebook are collaborating on a new disaggregated, rack-scale server architecture that enables independent upgrading of compute, network and storage subsystems that will define the future of mega-datacenter designs for the next decade," said Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, during his keynote address at Open Computer Summit in Santa Clara, California.