Marvell showed off its next-generation silicon photonics platform at the Marvell Analyst Day 2023. We finally got a look at the company’s march towards on-package silicon photonics devices that are designed to greatly increase the I/O capacity and reach of future generations of processors.
Marvell Silicon Photonics
Much of Marvell’s silicon photonics IP comes from its Inphi acquisition. Inphi built COLORZ 100, the 100G ZR optic for linking Microsoft data center campuses. This now has 7B device operating hours in the field.
The COLORZ 400 was announced in 2020. It was in production in the second half of 2021. There are now hundreds of thousands of pluggable modules deployed. COLORZ 800 is a 800G single lambda optical module. This combines the company’s 800G silicon photonics solution with the 800G Orion coherent DSP that we covered previously.
The company has a path of quadrupling the speed of modules from 800G that is the hot topic today to doing 3.2T using silicon photonics over 16 lanes.
That was great, but Marvell started talking about its light engines as well.
Marvell has been working on integrating silicon photonics into packages for some time. This is an important technology that we have discussed for many years on STH as it will allow for technologies like remote memory (increasing capacity), faster chip-to-chip interconnects, and even broader spans to where devices in a system can reside. On the network switch side, it is significantly more efficient than driving signals from the switch package to pluggable optics cages through PCB. This co-packaging often requires technologies like TSVs to drill through silicon components, but it is a set of technology we will need as an industry.
Something that we will note here is that Marvell is showing a laser being integrated on package. We have covered this a few times, but the laser is often the least reliable component in an optical module, so moving it off-package to a pluggable module turns it into a service item. With chips costing tens of thousands of dollars, increasing reliability is important.
At Analyst Day 2023, Marvell showed off its new SiPho light engine for AI. This is the company’s new 200G per lane silicon photonics light engine. It integrates hundreds of components into the engine.
Perhaps the biggest claim is that it will offer Tbps class performance at sub 10 picojoules per bit. That is an important target efficiency metric in the industry. This light engine can then be used either as a pluggable optical module or as a co-packaged optics solution.
Marvell says that it has already taped out this light engine and that a live demo is coming soon. Marvell said that it plans to sell this as a light engine instead of as a pluggable module for the data center. Someone else would assemble it into a pluggable module. It can also co-package the light engine in a switch or another chip.
This is going to be a next-generation battleground technology as the industry grapples with creating larger and more efficient packaging to increase performance while taming power consumption challenges.