It was announced this week that Juniper Networks is acquiring integrated photonics fabless supplier Aurrion for an undisclosed amount. Aurrion was founded in 2008 by Dr. Alexander Fang of ex Intel and IBM fame and specializes in Indium Phosphide (InP) based transceivers for long-haul communications.
The twist that made Aurrion’s offering interesting to Juniper Networks is that rather than just developing monolithic InP solutions, Aurrion is using a bonding step to add InP to siliconphotonics at the wafer scale. InP is typically required for active devices such as laser light sources, optical amplifiers, fast modulators and photo detectors. These devices are difficult to make in regular silicon processes due to Si’s indirect band gap. Instead Aurrion is bonding the InP to the Si in the form of small InP chiplets that can be used tocreate the active devices and integrate them with the rest of the lower cost silicon-based photonics.The example shown here is a III-V optical amplifier with silicon on an SOI PIC. The top section shows metalcontacts (yellow) applying a current across the III-V quantum well (red) to generate an optical emission (white area inthe center of the red). The bottom half of the figure shows a tapered mode converter that couples light between the III-V hybrid waveguide and the silicon waveguide below it. The end goal is to reduce cost through the integration of the InP optical amplifier onto the silicon based PIC die.
Pradeep Sindhu, CEO of Juniper, welcomed Aurrion into the fold in one of his blogs on August 2[SUP]nd[/SUP] where he claimed that the optoelectronic portion of state-of-the-art switches now represents more than half of the cost of the switch. Juniper is acquiring Aurrion with the hopes that they will be able to drive these costs down through integration with silicon. He goes on to expound that the real problem is the explosive growth of video streaming, social networking and data center to data center traffic driving a need for every greater bandwidth density at ever decreasing costs and increasing flexibility. To that end, earlier in the year Juniper acquired BTI Systems, who specializes in software-defined networking (SDN). The acquisitions of BTI and Aurrion is in response to customers demanding greater bandwidth and more flexibility at lower costs. In an article with CRN, Juniper CEO Sindhu said that “Aurrion delivered dramatically lower bit-per-second costs for networking systems, higher capacities for networking interfaces and greater flexibility in how bandwidth carried on light is processed inside the electronic portions of the networking systems”. This last point has been the holy grail for many wishing to leverage the bandwidth capabilities of photonics. The question has been how to cost effectively manage the interface between the electronics and the photonics to make the tighter integration viable. Juniper is betting that Aurrion’s hybrid solution will be the answer.
Since its inception in 2008, Aurrion had been active in publishing several integrated photonics articles and papers but had not yet formally announced a real product. They did however receive a $13.9 million multi-year contract from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as part of DARPA’s E-PHI (Electronic-Photonic Heterogeneous Integration) program to develop new architectures for PICs on Si substrates. The company also raised $22.54 million through four rounds of funding before the acquisition.
This acquisition by Juniper is being favorably compared to the 2012 acquisition of Lightwire by Cisco where that acquisition is credited with helping Cisco to create their CPAK 100-Gbps optical transceiver as well as to improve other on-board optical approaches. Juniper had already been integrating optics into their switches and routers and it appears that Aurrion’s efforts will be directly applicable to improving the costs of those solutions by enabling further integration.
All in all, I view this as another strong move by the industry towards making fabless photonics a mainstream reality.