Optics for the Cloud

Optics for the Cloud

Optics for the Cloud is a programme of research to advance and enable the adoption of novel groundbreaking technologies in the rapidly growing field of cloud computing. The scope of this opportunity includes storage, network, compute, memory and specialized accelerators. The research also spans the entire vertical stack, ranging from optical device fabrication, to optical system and sub-system design, to co-design and integration with the rest of the data center infrastructure and will include new applications enabled by optical technologies.

The world is moving to the cloud at an ever-increasing rate. Microsoft is at the core of this transformation and is continuously building new data centres to keep up with demand. However, most of the core technologies used in these centres today were designed or conceived before the cloud existed. Many of those technologies represent compromises, encumbered by historic design choices pertinent to an antiquated application, and encrusted with features appealing to the idiosyncrasies of many different scenarios. At the cloud scale, there is the scope to create cloud-specific technologies that free us from decades of legacy thinking.

At Microsoft Research Cambridge we built a team to explore Optics for the Cloud. We believe that by taking a holistic view of the needs of the cloud we can create disruptive technologies for the cloud. To achieve this, we’ve assembled a highly inter-disciplinary team to ask the simple question – what should tomorrow’s cloud technologies look like? We’re inventing optical end-to-end systems, across the three primary resources of storage, network and compute, that will underpin the next generation of the cloud.


Complex landscape for gradient descent
Image by Javier Ideami @ losslandscape.com.

Project AIM

We are building an optical machine to accelerate hard optimization problems – a space where state-of-the-art silicon solutions and even quantum fall short. This is achieved by leveraging the recent enormous improvements and efforts towards commodity optical technologies, such as smartphone and projector devices.

Holographic storage crystal

Project HSD

Project HSD is a collaboration between Microsoft Research Cambridge and Microsoft Azure to re-imagine an old idea – holographic storage – as a cloud-first design. We are capitalizing on the recent exponential improvement and commoditization in optical technologies such as smartphone cameras, as well as the unique opportunity to design at cloud scale.

Project Iris - abstract image of bands of light, data points, and a digital city overlay

Project Iris

This project explores novel designs of regional and wide-area cloud networks, from the ground up.

Silica laser

Project Silica

Project Silica is developing the world’s first storage system underpinned by glass, to offer a sustainable, secure storage technology, that will address humanity’s needs for long-term archival storage for decades to come!

abstract bands of light on a black background

Project Sirius

This project aims to develop an all-optical, data-center-wide network that is completely flat, in contrast to the hierarchy of electrical switches used today.




Portrait of Patrick Anderson

Patrick Anderson

Senior Optical Scientist

Portrait of Hitesh Ballani

Hitesh Ballani

Principal Researcher

Portrait of Richard Black

Richard Black

Senior Principal Research Engineer Lead

Portrait of Andromachi Chatzieleftheriou

Andromachi Chatzieleftheriou

Senior Researcher

Portrait of Nathanael Cheriere

Nathanael Cheriere

Senior researcher

Portrait of Jiaqi Chu

Jiaqi Chu

Senior Researcher

Portrait of James Clegg

James Clegg

Senior optical scientist

Portrait of Daniel Cletheroe

Daniel Cletheroe

Principal Hardware Engineer

Portrait of Paolo Costa

Paolo Costa

Senior Principal Researcher

Portrait of Tim Deegan

Tim Deegan

Senior Research Software Engineer

Portrait of Austin Donnelly

Austin Donnelly

Senior Principal Research Engineer Lead

Portrait of Rokas Drevinskas

Rokas Drevinskas

Senior Optical Scientist

Portrait of Andreas Georgiou

Andreas Georgiou

Senior Researcher

Portrait of Christos Gkantsidis

Christos Gkantsidis

Principal Researcher

Portrait of Ariel Gomez Diaz

Ariel Gomez Diaz

Senior Optical Scientist

Portrait of Istvan Haller

Istvan Haller

Senior Research Software Development Engineer

Portrait of Russell Joyce

Russell Joyce


Portrait of Thomas Karagiannis

Thomas Karagiannis

Principal Researcher

Portrait of Fotini Karinou

Fotini Karinou

Senior Researcher

Portrait of Sophie Lange

Sophie Lange


Portrait of Sergey Legtchenko

Sergey Legtchenko

Principal Research Software Engineer

Portrait of Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis

AI Resident

Portrait of Clare Morgan

Clare Morgan

Business Program Manager

Portrait of Dushyanth Narayanan

Dushyanth Narayanan

Senior Principal Researcher

Portrait of Greg O'Shea

Greg O'Shea

Principal RSDE

Portrait of Francesca Parmigiani

Francesca Parmigiani

Principal Researcher

Portrait of Ant Rowstron

Ant Rowstron

Distinguished Engineer / Deputy Lab Director

Portrait of Masaaki Sakakura

Masaaki Sakakura

Principal Optical Scientist

Portrait of Peter Scholtz

Peter Scholtz

Software Engineer

Portrait of Kai Shi

Kai Shi


Portrait of Ioan Stefanovici

Ioan Stefanovici

Principal Researcher

Portrait of David Sweeney

David Sweeney

Principal Industrial Designer

Portrait of Benn Thomsen

Benn Thomsen

Senior Principal Researcher

Portrait of Hugh Williams

Hugh Williams

Principal Research Hardware Engineer

Portrait of Mengyang Yang

Mengyang Yang

Senior Holographic Scientist

Interns and Collaborators

Portrait of Dan Blumenthal

Dan Blumenthal

Visiting Researcher, 2017


Portrait of Kari Clark

Kari Clark

Intern, 2016


Portrait of Chris Dainty

Chris Dainty

Consultant, 2017- 2019

Portrait of Adam Funnell

Adam Funnell

Intern, 2016


Portrait of Thomas Gerard

Thomas Gerard

Intern, 2016


Portrait of Hussein Kassir

Hussein Kassir

Intern, 2015

École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Portrait of Qi Li

Qi Li

Intern, 2015

Columbia University

Portrait of Alana  Marzoev

Alana Marzoev

Intern, 2018


Portrait of Jayashree  Mohan

Jayashree Mohan

Intern, 2018

UT Austin

Portrait of Theofilos Petsios

Theofilos Petsios

Intern, 2017

Columbia University

Portrait of Nadesh  Ramanathan

Nadesh Ramanathan

Intern, 2017

Imperial College London

Portrait of Philip Watts

Philip Watts

Visiting Researcher, 2016


Portrait of Aaron Zhao

Aaron Zhao


University of Cambridge

Portrait of Ginni Khanna

Ginni Khanna

Intern, 2019

Technical University of Munich

Portrait of Jeff Cox

Jeff Cox

Partner Director Network Architecture

Portrait of Aaron Ogus

Aaron Ogus

Partner Group Software Engineer Manager

Portrait of Jason Adrian

Jason Adrian

Principal Engineer

Portrait of Ibrahim  Ahmed

Ibrahim Ahmed

Principal Software Engineering Manager

Portrait of Michaela Florinda Picardi

Michaela Florinda Picardi