Optical I/O Pioneer Tapped for Ayar Labs CEO Position

By Agam Shah

December 12, 2023

Ayar Labs, a company that aims to eliminate copper wires with optical technology in I/O, has promoted its CTO to lead the company.

Mark Wade, who has a history of developing optical technology at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley, will replace Charles Wuischpard as CEO. Wuischpard, who previously was at Intel and Penguin Computing, was HPCwire’s person to watch in 2014.

“I remain as a board member/advisor to Mark to ensure a smooth transition. I will announce the next step in my journey soon, but today, it’s about Ayar Labs and Mark,” Wuischpard said in a LinkedIn post.

Wade co-founded Ayar Labs in 2015. The company has since attracted multiple funding rounds from companies like Applied Ventures, Intel Capital, Lockheed Martin, and Nvidia.

“I look forward to guiding the incredible Ayar Labs team to capitalize on the tremendous opportunity we have ahead of us, enabling our customers to realize the full potential of in-package optical I/O and helping the company accelerate into our next growth phase,” Wade said in a LinkedIn post.

Wade will now lead an effort to commercialize the company’s silicon photonics I/O technology, which is seen as a breakthrough technology if successful with customers.

Ayar TeraPHY™ optical I/O chiplet, low power, high-throughput alternative to copper networks.

Optical networks use pulses of light to transfer data and have been used for decades for long-distance communications on telecom networks. Companies like Marvell and Broadcom use copper wiring over single-digit meters to connect servers to switches, after which optical networking is used for longer-distance communication.

Ayar Labs is looking to eliminate the “last mile” implementation of copper, which can be a bottleneck, and use pulses of light for chips to communicate with each other. The company claims its optical networking technology is faster and cheaper.

Ayar Labs is trying to solve the challenge of integrating photonics at the chip level. The company is creating an optical I/O technology that can be made using existing manufacturing technologies and can be integrated into chips.

Hyperscalers and cloud providers are interested in optical I/O and networking for faster communication to meet the demand of AI workloads. Optical I/O at a more granular level is a must-have to enable faster computing between cores and into memory. AI is extremely memory-heavy, especially as tasks get more complex and queries pile up.

Google’s global AI infrastructure is based on optical switching technology, which can be scaled up depending on the AI load and requirements. Each rack can be deployed independently, and optical networking is better for training than copper wires. Nvidia’s interconnect, NVSwitch, is currently based on copper wires.

AMD CEO Lisa Su and Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger have cited optical networking and I/O as one way to scale computing speed moving forward. However, it is universally agreed that copper wires are currently significantly cheaper than optical fibers, though that could change in the future.

Optical communication at a chip level has been researched for decades. In 2007, IBM talked about using silicon nanophotonics to replace copper wires for communication between cores. Entities, including DARPA and NIST are also researching optical integration in chips.

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