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Infinera Adds Business Smarts to Its Instant Network Pitch

Ray Le Maistre
3/20/2017
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Infinera has a very clear message for the optical networking community hanging out at the OFC event in Los Angeles this week -- speeds and feeds are still important but smart capacity management tools and CFO-friendly business models are the new cutting edge.

For Infinera, those smarts come in the form of "Instant Network," a set of tools designed to give operators greater control of their network capacity, better align the activation of capacity to customer needs (eradicating the need for any idle capacity), reduce costs and more closely match network costs with their revenues. (See Infinera Launches Instant Network.)

Such topics will be much in evidence at OFC this week as one of Infinera's arch rivals, Ciena, has also been shouting about its flexible, programmable networking capabilities -- and that hasn't escaped the Infinera's team's attention. (See Ciena Adds Apps for Optical Network Flexibility.)

More on that rivalry later.

But back to Infinera. The vendor is pitching its "software-defined capacity" Instant Network proposition as an evolution of its Instant Bandwidth tool, which was launched in 2012 and, according to Infinera, is now used by more than 70 operators. (See Infinera Intros Instant Bandwidth.)

So what's new? Three main things -- Bandwidth License Pools, Moveable Licenses and Automated Capacity Engineering (ACE).

Bandwidth License Pools (let's not call it BLP) is what's likely to excite operator CFOs. This enables operators to load up as much capacity on their networks as they want but only start paying for it once it's activated, which can, according to Infinera's senior director marketing, Mark Showalter, be done in minutes using existing Instant Bandwidth tools. In the past, operators would have over-provisioned their networks and be paying for idle capacity so they could quickly meet customers' demands, but that cost model can now be avoided.

Moveable Licenses, meanwhile, gives operators the chance to transfer a license acquired for capacity on one link and shift it to another connection, a capability that's enabled by being able to carve network capacity into multiple slices. "Not only can you activate capacity and then get invoiced for it but you can move the license from one link to another -- all of that is unique," claims Showalter, who notes that these capabilities will work with existing deployments of Infinera's ICE (Infinite Capacity Engine) and 500G PIC (photonic integrated circuit) deployments.

Automated Capacity Engineering (ACE), which is built on its existing Xceed SDN controller, is the application that hints at the possibilities enabled by cognitive networking (but, unlike the other new tools, it's not available until 2018). (See Infinera Unveils Transport SDN Tools, Slams Rivals .)

The ACE tool takes network planning and support processes traditionally done manually and adds them to the network in the form of a "microservices-based path computation element." This enables the network to be aware of its current state and optimize accordingly, working in tandem with the bandwidth license tool capabilities. This is "a real step towards automation... a step towards cognitive networking," states Showalter.


For all the major developments from this year's OFC, check out our dedicated OFC show news channel here on Light Reading.


All of these capabilities sound like they would be of great use to network operators -- indeed, Telstra added some comments to Infinera's official Instant Network announcement to say that its vision for its Asia-Pacific subsea network aligns with the vendor's pitch.

But Infinera is not the only company with a software-defined transport network management pitch, as previously noted. So is there much difference?

Yes and no, appears to be the answer. With Ciena having announced its Liquid Spectrum offer only days ago, Showalter made constant reference to the key difference between the two propositions: Namely, that Ciena's technology is about optimizing capacity that has already been provisioned and paid for, while Infinera's Instant Network is about optimizing and activating pre-deployed capacity that is paid for only once it's optimized. (To be fair, it should also be noted that the Infinera man said that Ciena's Blue Planet software, which underpins Liquid Spectrum, does have a "bigger picture view" of the network, so he did give his rival some credit.)

Industry analyst Andrew Schmitt, founder at Cignal AI, agrees that Ciena's pitch is focused on "seeking to extract maximum capacity from deployed assets that are bought and paid for." And in terms of that bigger picture, Ciena's Liquid Spectrum "also has a more overt way of expressing openness for controlling transponders/common equipment from multiple vendors, using Blue Planet. Infinera can do this with its software, but Blue Planet has a longer history of multi-vendor work," notes Schmitt.

Meanwhile, Heavy Reading's Principal Analyst for Optical Networking and Transport, Sterling Perrin, doesn't think there's a great deal of differentiation -- just different approaches to arrive at the same kind of benefits. "The keys for Ciena are the Wavelogic Ai chip combined with software automation via BluePlanet. For Infinera, it's the ICE PIC/DSP combo combined with software automation via the Xceed SDN controller. Ciena's hardware approach is single wavelength scalable up by modulation format, and then by adding multiple waves. Infinera, of course, is PIC-based, and, with the new CX2 coming out at 1.2 Tbit/s, for Infinera there's a need to scale down as well as up, so it has the bandwidth licensing approach through which capacity is pre-provisioned but then licensed and paid for as needed. Infinera also scales up with flexible modulation."

So there are differences in architecture, but "the end goals are very similar. The two will probably spend a great deal of time bashing each other, but the greater trend is delivering more and more flexibility and SDN-based automation to the optical layers."

The winners, ultimately, should be the network operators, which have long been demanding tools that can provide them with additional flexibility and greater efficiencies.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, International Group Editor, Light Reading

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