Dan Yang's Next Big POP?
When fiber optic amplifier maker AFC Technologies was bought by JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) in September 1999, many questioned what the founder and CEO, Dr. Dan D. Yang, would do next.
"Everyone... in EDFA knows her," one admirer wrote to Light Reading. "[W]ho can make [millions] all by herself, no VC, no backing, no partner, no record, nothing? Answer: the queen."
It's easy to see why Yang inspires a cult-like following. A physicist born in China and educated there and in Europe, she overcame enormous obstacles to start her own L-band amplifier company in Canada in 1997 -- then sold it to JSDU two years later.
Yang is credited with bringing the L-band amplifier to market ahead of others between 1997 and 1999. She developed the device largely on her own and single-handedly peddled it at tradeshows and conferences until it caught the attention of large component players. Lacking the means to expand her company quickly enough to beat the competition, she opted to sell her technology to JDSU for $40 million, then try her hand at another startup.
That startup, DowsLake Microsystems Inc. is still in its first stage of development in Santa Clara, Calif. But there's nothing stealthy about it. Instead, Yang speaks openly about what the firm is up to -- specifically, creating a generic card that can manage wavelengths in a range of optical devices, including edge and core switches.
The card, dubbed a programmable optical processor, or POP, aims to integrate a raft of optical functions. It will pack DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) amplifiers, monitors, and attentuators into one card, ready to plug into an optical switch. Accompanying software will allow vendors to program the POP to fit the device. The card itself will be made to fit into a range of form factors.
Such a device could save developers considerable time and effort in setting up the basic building blocks of a DWDM system, Yang says. "The primary development cycle for integrators is at least one year, more often one and a half to two years," Yang asserts. "Now they'll be able to plug in our card and skip all that."
In clarifying the role of the POP, Yang is careful to stress what it is not. It isn't a semiconductor chipset or a network processor, she says, nor does it perform any electrical-to-optical conversions.
Yang gives an example of how the POP might be used: If a DWDM switch vendor wanted to offer its customers the ability to switch wavelengths from one location to another, it would write an interface between its DWDM lasers and the POP (using the APIs provided with the POP). Subsequently, if a carrier using the box wanted to reassign a lambda from a faraway city to one closer to the switch, that customer could select a request in the interface, and the POP would attenuate the lambda to fit the distance to the shorter city.
Yang says DowsLake's POP differs from technology being developed at other startups because it manages wavelengths in both transmission and reception. Other companies, she says, are developing products targeted at one direction or the other.
Yang and her team have filed a patent on the POP. They expect to release a prototype this summer -- about the same time they hope to announce a second round of funding. (A first round of $5 million was obtained in October 2000 from Storm Ventures, the eGarden Fund, and Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, along with some individual investors.)
DowsLake's first product will support channels at 1550 to 1560 nanometers and feature amplification, monitoring, and attenuation. On the downside, potential customers will have to wait for the built-in ability to switch between wavelengths. That capability will be added to the POP several months later, Yang says.
Yang says DowsLake is up to 20 employees at present, nearly all of them engineers. The management team includes Himanshu Vaishnav, director of business development (ex-Opthos, High Speed Networks, and CellAccess Technology); Michael Musiel, chief architect (ex-K.W. Muth, US Robotics, Darome Teleconferencing); Reynaldo Evangelista, quality/operations manager (ex-Creative Technology, Thomson Television, Sharp Electronics); and Rol Williams, corporate secretary and counsel, who's also an attorney at Wilson Sonsini et al. Sanjay Subhedar of Storm Ventures (ex-E-Tek Dynamics and Stratacom) and John Zhao of eGarden Fund (ex-Vadem Ltd. and Infolio, both wireless companies) serve on DowsLake's board.
Despite the publicity surrounding her selling AFC to JDSU, Yang seems reluctant to get back into the limelight at this point. "As far as myself," she wrote to Light Reading recently, "it's not very appealing anymore to be under the spotlight."
-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com