Making light work of fibre optic optimisation

High performance computing has enabled researchers from Aston University and the University of Warwick to test pioneering simulation software that could improve the performance of fibre optic cables.


From telecommunications to computer networks, the fast-growing digital economy is universally underpinned by fibre optics. Still, there remains substantial scope to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of this technology – for example, by mitigating the effects of short, sharp power pulses known as ‘rogue waves’ that can occur in such nonlinear transmission lines. These high intensity pulses cause transmission errors and severely degrade system performance. As a step towards resolving these issues, a team from Aston and Warwick Universities took on the challenge of developing massively-parallel modelling software, providing for the first time a systematic and statistically accurate understanding of the so-called “rare event” nature of rogue waves. Because the software needed to work across thousands of Central Processing Units (CPUs) operating in parallel, it was vital to test it using powerful high performance computing facilities to prove its suitability and readiness for demanding industrial use in the future. 


One of the top 30 supercomputers in the world, the Hartree Centre’s Blue Joule incorporates over 130,000 CPUs and can carry out over a thousand trillion calculations a second. Harnessing around 400,000 hours of core time across nearly 100,000 CPUs, the team successfully tested the scalability and runtime behaviour of their innovative software, with Blue Joule being the only machine of sufficient size to convincingly prove the linear scalability of the code over five orders of magnitude in core count. Specialists at the Hartree Centre were also essential and highly supportive in adapting the code to run optimally on Blue Joule.


The outcome of the project was an innovative software tool that is highly useful for researchers and designers of fibre optic networks as well as component manufacturers of transmission system equipment. The software offers a faster, more affordable alternative to physical experiments, which cuts costs and time-to-market. The software is ready for industrial organisations to use and run on facilities such as those at the Hartree Centre.  Potential also exists to set up a dedicated spin-out company that can deliver industry-focused consultancy and enable the software’s full capabilities to be exploited commercially.   

“The Hartree Centre has been vital for the development of this software, which supports key research objectives of the rapidly evolving digital revolution. It is a potential game changer in the way optical communication systems will be simulated in the future.”

Dr Marc Eberhard, Aston University

“Accessing a supercomputing resource of this calibre – a resource beyond the capacity of most academic or industrial organisations to establish in-house – delivers a much-needed extra dimension to the development and utilisation of novel software.”

Prof Rudolf A Roemer, University of Warwick

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