IBM announced today that it is re-committing itself to the computer landscape, as the company intends to spend $3 billion on research into future chip technologies. Over the next five years, Big Blue will invest in two "broad research and early stage development programs" in search of an innovation in the field. The shift in strategy comes at a time when the company was rumored to be selling off its chip manufacturing business.
The first program will look at reaching the "seven nanometer and beyond" level of silicon technology. By researching different methods to work around the physical limitations of future silicon chip developments, IBM hopes to be ahead of the game. The current road semiconductors are on will scale down from 22 nanometers to 14 and then down to 10 within the next several years. Scaling down any further will require the discovery of new technologies, which will require a great deal of money and architecture innovations before they can be manufactured.
"The question is not if we will introduce seven nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?" said Senior Vice President of IBM Research John Kelly. "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."
The other path of technology research IBM will invest in looks to solve a problem that is currently faced with silicon-based semiconductors. As silicon is a limiting factor in the increasing power of processing capabilities, IBM will look into new areas and technologies to move past the seven nanometer goal. Such technologies for the post-silicon era that IBM intends to research include graphene, carbon nanotubes, quantum computing, neurosynaptic computing, silicon photonics, III-V technologies and "next generation lower-power transistors" like tunnel field effect transistors.
IBM said that part of the pressure to develop new technologies comes from the rapid expansion into cloud and big data. Chips used in the applications are facing physical scaling limitations, as users looking to maximize bandwidth and minimize electricity consumption are facing problems on how far the current technology can be pushed.
Researchers and engineers for IBM on the new projects will be based in California, New York and Europe. The company plans to invest heavily into emerging research areas that are already underway. IBM emphasized that it wouldn't be stepping away from the areas of fundamental science, as it will still invest in nanosciences and quantum computing.
The announcement to look into the future of computing technologies follows previous news from the company earlier in the year. IBM showed off a replacement for NAND flash in May, a technology that would combine NAND and DRAM on a single controller called the Theseus Project.