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Ayar Labs tops up funding with $25M

25 May 2023

Silicon photonics startup wins more backing from investors including chip giant Nvidia and Taiwan's Capital TEN.

Ayar Labs, the Santa Clara developer of silicon photonics technology that is closely involved with some of the biggest names in computing and data centers, has topped up its funding by $25 million.

The “series C1” support, which adds to the firm’s $130 million series C round last year, was led by new investor Capital TEN but also saw key collaborator Nvidia increase its investment.

The startup says that it will use the additional funds to speed commercialization of its optical input-output (I/O) solutions to improve key characteristics like power consumption, latency, reach, and system bandwidth bottlenecks in high-performance computing and related areas.

Co-packaged optics
According to the France-based market consulting company Yole Intelligence, Ayar Labs has emerged as a key player in the field of “co-packaged optics” (CPO), a technology intended to address challenges like thermal management, power consumption, bandwidth, and port density in high-speed optical interconnects.

Those challenges are thought to threaten future advances in generative artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Ayar Labs’ CEO Charles Wuischpard commented: “This C1 adds sophisticated investor partners that will allow us to accelerate our strategic roadmap, and is further validation of our technology and plan to bring silicon photonics-based interconnect solutions to market at scale.”

Craig Thompson, the VP of business development within Nvidia’s networking business unit, added: “Nvidia is reimagining the data center with integrated hardware, software and networking for accelerated computing.

“Generative AI models with trillions of parameters are accelerating demand for this platform, which is why we are increasing our investment in Ayar Labs.”

Key collaborators
Yole analyst Martin Vallo says that Nvidia’s partnership with Ayar Labs is aiming to improve system-level performance by something like an order of magnitude every year - with existing technologies proving to be a bottleneck on that aim.

“CPO technology will rely heavily on silicon photonics,” Vallo stated during a presentation at this year’s SPIE Photonics West event. “With highly integrated optics and silicon chips, new engineering capabilities and foundries are needed.

“Manufacturing yield of silicon photonics must be acceptable for volume production. This is one of the main challenges now to scale up to high production volumes because cost reduction will also depend on manufacturing yield improvements.”

Aside from Nvidia, Ayar Labs also counts Intel and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) among its key collaborators - with Intel Capital and Hewlett Packard Pathfinder among its existing investors. The silicon photonics wafers are fabricated by GlobalFoundries.

Vallo says that the technology roadmap for HPE’s “Slingshot” supercomputer interconnect requires optical I/O chiplets, while Intel produced the first CPO-based FPGA by using five of Ayar “TeraPHY” devices.

Pin-Nan Tseng, general partner at Taiwan-based Capital TEN, said of its latest investment: “We believe that future computing solutions will include large-scale use of silicon photonics for data communications, and have been following Ayar Labs for some time now.

“Given our deep expertise in the semiconductor industry and the Taiwan semiconductor ecosystem, we believe Ayar Labs has the technology solution, people, capital, and broad support to lead in the transition from copper to optical interconnects for scale-out computing and memory applications.”

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