Light pulses are already being used to improve power-efficiency and speed up data transfers in communication networks, but Intel Corp. intends to use optical technology to move data faster in supercomputers.

The use of light pulses to achieve massive data transfer speeds has great potential in the field of high-performance computing and can improve overall system performance as well, according to Intel. The company said the light pulse technology will be part of its Knights Landing supercomputer chip.

Silicon photonic research is something that Intel has been doing for more than 10 years now.

The company’s Thunderbolt technology, a dual protocol I/O innovation that increases data transfer performance with bi-directional 10Gbps speed, is already in use in PC. The technology uses light to connect computers to peripherals such as external hard drives.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) also developed an optical connector called MXC that is able to transfer data at speeds of up to 1.6Tbps between servers.

Intel said its optical connection technology will be part of its Omni-Path networking platform and will be offered as an alternative to copper connections.

There are lots of cabinets, storage units and racks in supercomputers and moving signals between these components require more power than the processing done by the supercomputer itself. Using optics to move data can potentially reduce power consumption in supercomputers.

Optical interfaces can be pretty expensive, but Intel said it has found a cost-effective way of linking transmitters and receivers to the systems involved.

The company intends to develop a one exaflop supercomputer by 2022 that can fit into a 20-megawatt data centre. Currently, the world’s fastest supercomputer is the Tianhe – 2 which delivers 33.86 petaflops.

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