VPIplayer: Tool or Toy?

VPIphotonics Inc. last week announced a development at the OFC Conference that could mark the beginning of big changes in the way engineers design optical subsystems (see VPIphotonics Helps Share Designs).

The development is some free software, called VPIplayer, that allows designers to simulate the performance of the subsystems they're designing. It works like Adobe Systems Inc.'s Acrobat Reader, in that it reads "dynamic data sheets" -- small computer files that define the performance characteristics of components, created by component suppliers using VPI design software.

The idea is that designers will be able to download dynamic data sheets from component suppliers and plug them in to their simulated designs on VPIplayer. They can then change parameters, such as the length of fiber or transmission frequency, and see what impact this has on subsystem performance.

This will help designers avoid laborious and expensive trial-and-error processes which sometimes call on them to build multiple prototypes, according to Rudolf Moosburger, VPI group vice president. Moosburger notes that such simulation processes are commonplace in electronic subsystem design, and sooner or later designers of optical subsystems are bound to follow suit.

Of course, VPI will have to persuade component suppliers to create dynamic data sheets of their products, and right now, the jury's still out on whether the VPIplayer will deliver useful results.

"Overall, it's a good idea, but if [designers] just use it as it is, it's a very dangerous tool," says Masoud Vaziri, until recently director of lightwave system design for ultra-long-haul transmission at Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT). Vaziri, who's familiar with VPI's design software, says there are "tens of thousands" of variables that need setting properly in a typical design, and getting one of them wrong could make the results of VPIplayer meaningless. VPI "needs to do more work to validate the model," he contends.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

Opticsguru 12/5/2012 | 12:20:26 AM
re: VPIplayer: Tool or Toy? Toy.
littlepig 12/5/2012 | 12:20:25 AM
re: VPIplayer: Tool or Toy? In electronics there are standard SPICE files that are used in device designs. A SPICE simulation will not allow you to accurately simulate all characteristics of a device under all circumstances - but it will allow you to produce a useful circuit layout under the relevant operating conditions.

Has photonic simulation progressed to this level yet? In electronics it depended to some extent on standardisation, and that is happening in photonics now. It will depend somewhat on acceptance by component manufacturers - they may be cagy unless the operating conditions are specified well. The validity of the models are reasonably well know though, so this shouldn't be too hard.

Has VPI done a good job with their Player? Undecided - the software I downloaded was missing the "release notes" documentation and the visualiser documentation, but it seems to do a good job from what I can work out.

The time *has* probably come for this form of SPICE file standardisation in photonics design. Has VPI done a good job of it or not? I guess time will tell.
gea 12/5/2012 | 12:20:14 AM
re: VPIplayer: Tool or Toy? Well, this sounds like a GREAT idea. It just has to be executed correctly.

As for the "hundreds of variables", remember that a subsystem designer is really only concerned with a handful of "interface" parameters, so there's no reason this can't be done.

And VPI should not forget that although Acrobat is an Adobe product, Word documents can easily be converted into Acrobat as well. So the lesson to be learned there is that VPI should also definitely allow other software companies to be able to output into this VPI format as well.

In short, great idea. Take it all the way and don't blow it on execution.
spont 12/5/2012 | 12:20:11 AM
re: VPIplayer: Tool or Toy? Nifty - downloaded it and tried it. Funky stuff, anyone who hasn't seen optics in action this is the way to get a feel for it ;-)

However, I've been using their TransmissionMaker before and I can only agree with the comments from the Nortel guy - this is dangerous stuff. Great marketing tool, but as far as development goes it'll probaby be no more than a toy.

BTW: "As for the "hundreds of variables", remember that a subsystem designer is really only concerned with a handful of "interface" parameters, so there's no reason this can't be done" - you haven't used their tool, it really comes down to having all parameters set to the correct value or you turn out totally unreliable results. As said, great for marketing - less so for design.
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