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IBM announces $3 billion research initiative to tackle chip challenges

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IBM recently announced it is investing $3 billion over the next five years in two broad research and early stage development programs to push the limits of chip technology needed to meet the emerging demands of cloud computing and big data systems. These investments will push IBM’s semiconductor innovations from today’s breakthroughs into the advanced technology leadership required for the future.

The first research program is aimed at so-called “7 nanometer and beyond” silicon technology that will address serious physical challenges that are threatening current semiconductor scaling techniques and will impede the ability to manufacture such chips. The second is focused on developing alternative technologies for post-silicon era chips using entirely different approaches, which IBM scientists and other experts say are required because of the physical limitations of silicon-based semiconductors.

Cloud and big data applications are placing new challenges on systems, just as the underlying chip technology is facing numerous significant physical scaling limits. Bandwidth to memory, high-speed communication and device power consumption are becoming increasingly challenging and critical.

The teams will comprise IBM Research scientists and engineers from Albany and Yorktown, N.Y., Almaden, Calif., and Europe. In particular, IBM will be investing significantly in emerging areas of research that are already underway at IBM such as carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies, and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing.

These teams will focus on providing orders of magnitude improvement in system level performance and energy efficient computing. In addition, IBM will continue to invest in the nanosciences and quantum computing – two areas of fundamental science where IBM has remained a pioneer for over three decades.

IBM researchers and other semiconductor experts predict that while challenging, semiconductors show promise to scale from today’s 22 nanometers down to 14 and then 10 nanometers in the next several years. However, scaling to 7 nanometers and perhaps below by the end of the decade will require significant investment and innovation in semiconductor architectures, as well as invention of new tools and techniques for manufacturing.

“The question is not if we will introduce 7 nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when and at what cost?” says John Kelly, senior vice president, IBM Research. “IBM engineers and scientists, along with our partners, are well suited for this challenge and are already working on the materials science and device engineering required to meet the demands of the emerging system requirements for cloud, big data, and cognitive systems. This new investment will ensure that we produce the necessary innovations to meet these challenges.”

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