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IBM to invest US$3 billion in chips for cloud, big data systems

Thor Olavsrud | July 10, 2014
IBM tomorrow will announce a $3 billion research and development investment to create a new generation of semiconductors geared for cloud, big data and cognitive systems. Over the next five years, Big Blue says it will use the money to fund two broad research and early-stage development programs to overcome the challenges involved in making ever-more-powerful chips.

Moore's Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, states that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years — in practice it's been roughly every 18 to 24 months. Moore made his famous observation in a 1965 paper published in Electronics Magazine, and it has held true since that time. But physics suggests that eventually there must come a point where it is no longer possible to scale the integrated circuit.

Many experts believe the end will come somewhere between 10 nm and 5 nm on silicon. IBM believes there is a future beyond 7 nm, but it won't be found in silicon. Instead, it points to potential silicon alternatives like carbon nanotubes and computational approaches such as neuromorphic computing and quantum computing.

Specific areas of research will include quantum computing, neurosynaptic computing, silicon photonics, III-V technologies, carbon nanotubes, graphene, and next-generation low-power transistors (like tunnel field effect transistors that use the quantum-mechanical effect of band-to-band tunneling to drive the current flow through the transistor).

"In the next 10 years computing hardware systems will be fundamentally different as our scientists and engineers push the limits of semiconductor innovations to explore a post-silicon future," says Tom Rosamilia, senior vice present, IBM Systems and Technology Group. "IBM Research and Development teams are creating breakthrough innovations that will fuel our next era of computing systems."

The new research efforts will bring together IBM Research scientists and engineers from Albany and Yorktown, NY; Almaden, Calif.; and Zurich, Switzerland. IBM plans to "hire significantly" in emerging areas of research that are already underway at IBM, including carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing.

IBM says the teams will focus on providing an order of magnitude improvement in system-level performance and energy efficient computing. The company also plans to continue funding and collaborating with university researchers to explore and develop semiconductor technologies. It notes that it will continue to support and fund university research through private-public partnerships such as the NanoElectronics Research Initiative (NRI), the Semiconductor Advanced Research Network (STARnet) and the Global Research Consortium (GRC) of the Semiconductor Research Corporation.

 

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