A startup company called Optalysis is trying to invent a fully-optical computer that would be aimed at many of the same tasks for which GPUs are currently used. Amazingly, Optalysis is claiming that they can create an optical solver supercomputer astonishing 17 exaFLOPS machine by 2020.
To date they have successfully built a Proof of Concept derivative processor to demonstrate the ability to process a spectral derivative function using optical technology. This function forms the basis of spectral Partial Differential Equation solvers such as those used in high-end Computational Fluid Dynamics models.
The system produced two-dimensional derivative functions. Numerical data was represented as grey-level intensities on liquid crystal SLMs and projected through the optical system using a low power laser light. The results were then converted back into digital form with a camera.
A 340 gigaflops proof-of-concept model is slated for launch in January 2015, sufficient to analyze large data sets, and produce complex model simulations in a laboratory environment, according to the company.
Unlike current supercomputers, which still use what are essentially serial processors, the Optalysys Optical Processor takes advantage of the properties of light to perform the same computations in parallel and at the speed of light.
Optalysys’ technology applies the principles of diffractive and Fourier optics to calculate the same processor intensive mathematical functions used in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) and pattern recognition,” explains founder and CEO Dr. Nick New. “Using low power lasers and high resolution liquid crystal micro-displays, calculations are performed in parallel at the speed of light.”
The company is developing two products: a ‘Big Data’ analysis system and an Optical Solver Supercomputer, both on track for a 2017 launch.
The analysis unit works in tandem with a traditional supercomputer. Initial models will start at 1.32 petaflops and will ramp up to 300 petaflops by 2020.
The Optalysys Optical Solver Supercomputer will initially offer 9 petaflops of compute power, increasing to 17.1 exaflops by 2020.
Perhaps the most impressive trait of all is the reduced energy footprint. Power remains one of the foremost barriers to reaching exascale with a traditional silicon processor approach, but these optical computers are said to need only a standard mains supply. Estimated running cost: just £2,100 per year (US$3,500).
To compare, scaling up today’s technology to exascale levels would require at least 200MW of power, and the current fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-2 in Guangzhou, China, requires 24 MW per year (including cooling) at a cost of about $21 million per year.
Optalysys Ltd. raised over £400,000 (US$675,000) in seed money earlier this year, which enabled it to bring its innovative technology to NASA Technology Readiness Level 4 ahead of schedule.