Institute of Communications and Connected Systems


Optical Networks Group researcher awarded £1.1 million to design data centres of the future

3 December 2020

Optical Networks Group researcher Dr George Zervas has been awarded a £1.1 million EPSRC fellowship to design powerful, efficient and green data centres of the future   

Split screen. Datacentre with rows of server racks and fibre optics

Author: Ruth Milne, Transnet Communications Manager

Data Centres | Optical Networks | Network Architecture

ICCS member  Dr George Zervas,  from the Optical Networks Group (ONG),  has been awarded a  fellowship of £1.1 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to design and build data centres of the future.  

The work, which will take place in UCL’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, will  leverage  the  increased  network performance and energy efficiency enabled by  using  optically  switched  interconnects  within data centres.  

From transport to entertainment, we rely on data centres to support almost every aspect of our daily lives, but existing technology is reaching its limit to manage our constant and growing demand for information and data.   

Currently, all data centres are built on electronic networks which have so far been able to keep pace with exponential data growth because of Moore’s Law, the historical tendency of electronic circuits to double their transmission speed every two years or so at no extra power or cost. However, this trend is slowing down as existing technologies to make components smaller and faster are reaching their limits, and the performance of data centre systems is suffering as a consequence.  

George’s ‘OptoCloud’ EPSRC Fellowship aims to design and build next generation scalable and sustainable data centres by replacing electronic networks with optical fibre systems. Optical technologies and compute-network-technology co-design have the potential to massively improve network and computational performance, generating data centres that are much more efficient than current technology permits. Optical fibre-based data centres also consume less energy compared to electronic systems, making them more sustainable and cost-effective too.  

George Zervas, EPSRC Fellow, said

“Data Centres in any form, location and size are the ‘engine rooms’ of the digital infrastructure. Moore’s Law is coming to an end and OptoCloud aims to transform Data Centres by developing scalable, efficient and ultra-fast optical technologies. Crucially, it will explore the co-design of and dependencies between technologies/devices, network, compute and large-scale systems to deliver transformative systems.
This is a multi-disciplinary challenge across physics, engineering and computer science and I’m looking forward to working with my highly talented research team at UCL together with the outstanding group of industrial and academic partners.”  

To date, advancements and research has focused on long-standing switching principles. These principals fundamentally suffer from complexities that mean to make magnitudinal improvements will need new approaches to network architecture and the step change that optical integration will bring.  

OptoCloud will explore the fundamental challenges of optical data centres, including optical switching, highly efficient interconnects, network topologies, ultra-fast joint design and control of network and compute resources, while evaluating developed  technologies based on industrial use cases. 

The project will begin in March 2021, and over the next few years George will work alongside PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, industry partners and universities, that also contributed £1 million, to achieve the goals of the fellowship. 

Best of luck to George and the wider team!

Project partners

The Opto-Cloud project will be carried our in collaboration with the following partners:

Microsoft Research Cambridge 
Sumitomo Electric 
Columbia University 
National Technical University of Athens 


Discover more about the pioneering research George will be leading in the two articles below.
Innovations in data centre technology (The Engineer)   
Why the future needs optical data centres (IT Pro)  

Dr George Zervas 
Opto-Cloud Research Project 
Optical Networks Group 
Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering  
Institute of Communications and Connected Systems