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System on a Chip is the Future


System on a Chip is the Future

– a piece by Jonathan Marks of PhotonDelta


At the first PIC International awards in Brussels, Eindhoven-based Effect Photonics was acknowledged as the Industry leader in the category: Advances in Integration. PhotonDelta’s Jonathan Marks spoke with the winners who are operating in the highly competitive arena of datacentre interconnect solutions.

“In the last couple of years, we have seen a tipping point for Indium Phosphide photonics” explains Boudewijn Docter, CTO at Effect Photonics. “The telecom sector, in particular, realises that the exponential thirst for Internet bandwidth cannot be met by simply improving existing silicon technology.” “Datacentres need to double their capacity each year to cope with the global need for speed. The 1.5 billion smartphones sold worldwide in 2016 all want to connect to servers in datacentres. That’s in addition to the 22 billion “Internet of Things” connected devices now out there.”

“Our approach now is to make “systems on photonics chips”, fully harnessing the immediacy of light and combining highly optimised packaging with cost-effective electronics”. James Regan CEO Effect Photonics


The Interconnect Challenge

“As they expand, datacentres physically build their new giant datacentre next to the older one. Which means they need to interconnect these datacentres with extremely fast links carrying huge amounts of data (think PetaBytes) so that they work as one. This interconnectivity between separate data centres is essential so they can operate together, share resources and/or pass workloads between one another.”

“In many modern datacentres, the length of the interconnects is getting very long indeed. Typically, inside the datacentre, interconnect links are between 200 metres or 2 kilometres. But if you’re trying to connect to adjacent datacentres, links of 10+ kilometres are common. We’ve seen interconnects of 80 or 100 kilometres being needed when buildings are on the other side of a campus. The challenge is that extremely fast links over these longer distances don’t work efficiently with incumbent technologies. By understanding what these customers need at what cost then you can design a system that can deliver”.


Integrate everything

Today, with these long interconnect distances, it’s no longer sufficient to have a solution that integrates just some parts of a system. James Regan, CEO of Effect Photonics, explains their business strategy to solve the interconnect challenge.

“We’ve deliberately taken a holistic approach to these very complex technologies. We’ve focused on understanding the interdependence of system components.  Our approach now is to make “systems on photonics chips”, fully harnessing the immediacy of light and combining highly optimised packaging with cost-effective electronics. We’ve built a high-volume capability platform from the start. So, having met customer’s specifications, producing in volume is no problem.”


Hyperscale ready

“We heard many important industry concerns at the 2017 PIC conference in Brussels on March 7th and 8th. There’s clearly an urgent need for advances in design, packaging, testing and component integration to meet customer needs. There are robust discussions around lower pricing and scaling up the fabrication process. We know that our photonics knowledge also applies to next generation 5G networks where we expect fibre optics to reach all the way to the mobile base-station tower antenna. We also take an active part in European research projects such as the WIPE project.

Over 6000 eligible votes were cast for the finalists in this year’s PIC Awards.

“We thank our colleagues in the Photonics industry for their strong vote of confidence in delivering a product that matches customer needs. And we look forward to interesting discussions at the OFC Exhibition in Los Angeles.”

EFFECT Photonics will be at booth #1328 at OFC (19-23 March 2017) or contact Robert Hughes for more information about the company’s participation!




Chip Engineering Manager

“We grew together with EFFECT Photonics, I started as an engineer and I got promoted to engineering manager of a group of 12 people”

What is the most interesting aspect of working at EFFECT Photonics? And what about your job specifically?

My motivation to come to EFFECT Photonics was to shift from an academic to a business environment. At a company you can focus as a team on a single objective. Instead of being scattered over multiple research areas, all people at EFFECT Photonics focus on a single project and goal. Coming from a PhD where I was the only Dutch candidate, managing a multi-cultural team is no big change for me. I do operate from a Dutch perspective, my team gets the impression that Dutch companies are fairly flat. Although there is a formal management hierarchy, the work environment is very open and friendly. I try to be as approachable as possible. Decisions are the result of discussions with the team and weighing that against other business requirements. As a manager, I can lean on a strong technical background to be able to make correct decisions and guide the team to the best approaches. As my team is quite big, members are expected to be quite independent. This creates a lot of independence within people’s roles.

What advice would you give to someone who is planning to apply at EFFECT Photonics?

What me and my team do, is central to the company. It is a nice position to be in. It means we have a lot of interaction and dependency. Because of this central role, expectations are high and there is pressure to get good results. We deal with this by working very precisely and thoroughly preparing any designs we send out for manufacture. I feel that there is a very solution-focused environment here at EFFECT Photonics, where taking initiative is rewarded. I’d say join us if you want to be a part of a team developing high-tech solutions for the telecommunications industry.

Describe in 3 words what your job is all about.

Challenges, learning, advancement

I joined EFFECT Photonics during its early beginnings in 2014. I had just finished my PhD and was looking for work. I knew the co-founders of the company via the Technical University of Eindhoven and I was able to help them out with some odd jobs here and there. My role initially was very undefined as the company was in its early stages. When the company got its first round of funding, I was brought on for a full-time position. I really grew with the company, initially as an engineer and then I became an engineering manager, where I came to lead an ever-expanding team. I still love the engineering work itself, but managing a team of people is also very rewarding. EFFECT Photonics is a very high-tech environment, there is always a lot of cool stuff going on. Few companies do what we are doing. We are really trying to bring about lower cost solutions, which does come with engineering challenges. We have a very skilled and talented team, and I have full confidence that we will solve these challenges.

What is your biggest highlight of working here so far?

I think for me it is seeing the level of commitment from the team. Every one is prepared to go the extra mile in order to get good results. Additionally, there is a lot of excitement here, there is a buzz when you get new results. The wafer has only been in the office for an hour and you already get messages from colleagues eagerly waiting for the results. It’s this buzz that is a real highlight for me.