Canadian startup’s quantum dot technology poised to transform data centre industry

Hamid Arabzadeh, RANOVUS founder and University of Waterloo graduate (right), with Dr. Doug Becket, VP of Optical Technologies, RANOVUS.

Data centres are the engines that drive our smart technology world, and today they are laboring to keep up with growing global demand to transmit ever-greater data loads at ever-faster speeds, cost-effectively. 

Now, a Canadian startup company is poised to boost the capability of data centres to unprecedented levels of speed, cost savings and energy efficiency. Co-founded just three years ago by serial Canadian entrepreneur and CEO Hamid Arabzadeh, RANOVUS Inc. of Ottawa is developing multi-terabit interconnect technology with the potential to revolutionize the data centre industry.

Confidence in the innovative technology is high – the company has already attracted $35 million in investment from Canada, the U.S. and Germany to enhance its R&D operations and advance its optical interconnect technology into the data centre market.

“More than 90 per cent of global data traffic touches a data centre,” says Arabzadeh, “and 75 per cent of that traffic stays within individual data centres of companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.”

The company’s core technology involves a quantum dot laser that generates multiple light streams from a single chip.

“We use silicon photonics to encode and decode information on each stream of light,” he says. “Our unique scalable architecture is what attracted the big data centre players.”

Compared to the multi-fibre solutions used in data centres today, this single-fibre technology can increase connectivity from 100Gbps to 1.6Tbps, using less power, at a cheaper price. “Our technology is one-tenth of the cost and uses one-quarter the power,” Arabzadeh says.

The company’s success to date is rooted, in part, in Canada’s innovation ecosystem, he says. A University of Waterloo graduate, Arabzadeh worked for more than 15 years abroad, first at Nortel Networks’ Mexico, Brazil and U.K. operations, and then for seven years at German startup CoreOptics, until its sale to Cisco Systems in 2010 for U.S. $100M. He returned to Canada in 2010 because, he says, it is a great place to raise a family, but also because of its innovation ecosystem, including the quality of the talent pool, research institutions and government programs.

CMC Microsystems plays an important role in this innovation ecosystem by cultivating relationships with universities across the country, says Arabzadeh. CMC helped link him with photonics researchers at McMaster University who have played a key role in RANOVUS.

CMC also helped the company in other ways. Even promising startups are considered too risky to attract significant investment. CMC enabled RANOVUS to de-risk its technology by providing access to cost-effective prototyping services that helped the company to prove that its new technology offered a solution to overloaded data centres.

Talented, next-generation innovators are a further value-add to RANOVUS, and the company has found a good source of highly qualified personnel in SiEPIC, a training consortium pioneered by co-founders CMC and the University of British Columbia. Now managed by UBC, the course continues to include CMC’s input, teaching support and access to fabrication facilities around the world, helping graduates develop industry-ready capabilities. Recognizing the competitive advantage of this training, RANOVUS has provided internships to SiEPIC students over the past three years, enabling them to apply their knowledge and skills in an industrial setting. The company has also hired one postdoctoral fellow who had completed three SiEPIC workshops.

Well-funded companies such as RANOVUS can offer new talent a great experience, Arabzadeh says. The company will continue to offer employment opportunities to interns and graduates who provide immediate contributions because of the expertise they gain through SiEPIC. His goal is to reignite the core technology sector in Canada.

“We have a complete ecosystem in Canada: universities, research facilities, student programs, government grants and commercial partners,” he says. “This is a great country and we can do amazing things here.’’

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