Sun Microsystems to develop supercomputers with $44M DoD contract

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Sun Microsystems $44.29 million funding for a five-and-a-half-year research project focused on microchip interconnectivity via on-chip optical networks enabled by Silicon photonics and proximity communication.

The project, part of DARPA's Ultraperformance Nanophotonic Intrachip Communication program, commences with an incremental delivery of $8.1 million to Sun Microsystems' Microelectronics and Laboratories divisions.

Building on research done under DARPA's High Productivity Computing Systems program, the new project presents an opportunity to develop supercomputers through interconnecting an array of low-cost chips in a single, virtual “macrochip,” with the potential to overcome the fundamental cost and performance limits of scaling up current large computer systems, said Sun Microsystems.

By providing high bandwidth, low latency and low power interconnections between the parallel computing chips in such an array, the research project will help enable a broad class of companies and organizations to utilize applications with high computation and communication requirements, such as energy exploration, biotechnology and weather modeling, the company added.

Long connections across the macrochip leverage the low latency, high bandwidth, and low power of silicon optics, and through this program both companies will research technologies to further reduce the cost of these optical connections, Sun Microsystems said.

"By restoring the balance between computation and communications, the program will significantly enhance DoD's capabilities for applications such as image processing, autonomous operations, synthetic aperture radar, as well as supercomputing," said Jag Shah, PhD, program manager in DARPA's Microsystems technology office.