Two Years into my Journey to Connect the Computing World via Optical I/O Technologies

by | Dec 22, 2020

I celebrated my second anniversary with Ayar Labs about a week ago. It’s been a great ride leading this game-changing company and technology.  I am especially happy to share that we just closed a fantastic $35M Series B financing that provides the means to continue our optical I/O technologies work despite a challenging macro-economic environment.

In fact, this financing (which was raised completely virtually) was oversubscribed! We added exciting new investors and strategic partners to an already A-list team that continues to support us.  The money is important, yes, but perhaps more important is the advice, strategic input, and access to non-financial resources that this team of investors provides. We are thrilled to have this extended team working shoulder to shoulder to help us on our journey, and with this round we have expanded our network in the semiconductor industry as well as internationally in Europe and in Singapore. Look for more announcements in these areas. 

As industry efforts increase to find new solutions that extend and accelerate computational price/performance – or what everyone calls Moore’s Law – optical I/O (OIO) has emerged as one of the most promising opportunities for the future. The foundational research underpinning the Ayar Labs OIO solution began over 10 years ago at MIT, but it’s come together over the last few years and our recent commercial progress, partnerships and world-first public technical demonstrations have put us squarely in a position to win this transition. Nothing worth doing is easy, and with over 75 patents either granted or in process, it’s been years in the making.

Of course, timing is everything and I’m honored to have joined Ayar Labs in late 2018 after a long career in high performance computing (supercomputing) where new innovations in computing typically appear first. Interconnect has always presented bottlenecks in system design and performance but has typically lagged in other areas of innovation. It’s well understood, though, that a high bandwidth, low latency, low power interconnect would enable vast new capabilities and system architectures, and with comparatively much less disruption than other game-changing technologies like quantum or neuromorphic computing. In fact, I would argue that this optical interconnect is a prerequisite for these new computing approaches!  

Chris Berner, head of compute at OpenAI, summed it up nicely:

“OpenAI must be on the cutting edge of AI capabilities and low latency, high bandwidth optical interconnect is a central piece of our compute strategy to achieve our mission of delivering artificial intelligence technology that benefits all of humanity.”

-Chris Berner, Head of Compute, OpenAI

Clearly, we aren’t alone with this theory. Over the last two years, we have witnessed big moves in the industry with Cisco’s acquisition of Luxtera and Acacia, Nvidia’s acquisition of Mellanox, and, more recently, Marvell’s acquisition of InPhi. I understand these moves and investments and they are bold and know they will change the landscape of the industry. However, Ayar Labs addresses a part of the infrastructure that none of these companies have the technology to tackle, which is to fully integrate optical interconnect into the CPU/SOC package – what we call the “first/last mile” of optical interconnect. That is the real game-changer! (By the way, this opportunity is well described in the DARPA “PIPES” program within which Ayar is a valued contributor and performer.)

Our vision and the vision that has compelled me since day one is to imagine a world where every XPU/GPU/FPGA is interconnected via high bandwidth, low latency, low energy optical I/O!

Our mission is to bring this Optical I/O vision to reality, and this requires technology and ecosystem innovation across many disciplines – foundry process, photonics/optics design, digital/mixed signal development, and manufacturing and packaging prowess. The image below highlights the core challenge areas for commercialization. With the help of our strategic and financial partners and our customers – and the fantastic collaboration of our engineers working with theirs – we now see the goal in sight. The beginning of the transition from electrical to optical interconnect has begun.

Pandemic or not, the coming months (and years) are going to be an amazing time of growth and innovation in the industry. As employees and investors, in collaboration with our customers and ecosystem partners, we see the opportunity to change the computing world as we know it and redefine future system architectures with optical I/O. From Ayar Labs, you can expect to see advances in our products and technology as we leverage the great work that our engineering team is doing. We expect to see new faces added to our team, making these advances possible, and helping to get them to market. As momentum builds, you’ll see an expansion of our manufacturing capabilities, and our global reach delivering Ayar technology to the most innovative people, places and projects in the world.

Thank you to everyone who is on this journey with us. Ayar Labs is looking forward to a very bright future – may the light lead the way!

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