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Ciena, Ericsson Embark on SDN, Optical Love Affair

Ray Le Maistre

If you're going to get jiggy with a new close friend, Valentine's Day is as good a time as any to start, right?

That's why it's heartwarming that Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) chose February 14 to announce an optical and software-defined networking (SDN) strategic global agreement that will see the two companies engaged in joint R&D, product integration, and sales channel activities.

The combination is powerful. Ericsson is the leading vendor in mobile network infrastructure and global professional services for the communications service provider (CSP) sector, while Ciena is one of the leading optical transport vendors with a strong position in the all-important 100G systems market and a solid customer base, particularly in North America. (See The Optical Market: A Health Check .)

So what have they agreed? Well, they are going to jointly develop "transport solutions for IP-optical convergence" and SDN. In addition, Ericsson is going to sell Ciena's Converged Packet Optical products, including the 6500 Packet-Optical system, which is Ciena's key 40G, 100G (and in the future 400G) platform, and the smaller 5400 family. (See Ciena Goes Packet-Happy in the Metro.)

That's interesting news for a number of reasons: Ericsson has its own optical platform business already, so this is an intriguing development for the transport equipment market. It's also an interesting combination for the SDN sector, for the global CSP market and for Ciena and Ericsson's existing customers and rivals such as Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN), and Nokia Networks , as it gives Ericsson a stronger play in packet/optical and Ciena an established IP partner. (See Ericsson Unveils Network Processor and Ericsson Unveils New Router.)

"Given the competitive relationship in optical, this announcement is definitely a bit of a shock, particularly from the Ericsson side," notes Heavy Reading senior analyst Sterling Perrin.

"Ciena has been having a great run in optics with its leadership position in 100G and also with switched OTN, but Ciena's glaring hole in transport is the lack of IP routing expertise. As IP and optical convergence becomes more than just a buzzword, it does put pressure on Ciena to make a move into routing, and this appears to be at least a first step. Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Huawei all have IP and optical development already. The interesting thing though is so does Ericsson!" adds Perrin.

He continues: "The question is what does this mean for Ericsson's in-house optical transport products and team? With 100G being overcrowded, it could make sense for Ericsson to exit at least the 100G side of transport and focus its resources on IP development." At the same time, though, Ericsson has had success in the metro packet/optical market with its SPO 1400 line, adds the analyst.

"So, it looks like some good benefits for Ciena but it's raising a lot of questions about Ericsson's plans and strategy for optical transport," concludes Perrin.

All about focus
Ericsson says it's not abandoning anything, but is instead becoming more focused.

"We are not shutting anything down. We will meet all customer commitments and maintain our portfolio. The agreement with Ciena enhances our portfolio options," Jan Häglund, Ericsson's head of IP and Broadband, tells Light Reading. "We will continue to invest but now we can focus our investments and prioritize in a smart way on IP and service provider SDN, with Ciena as our preferred option for packet/optical."

What does this mean for Ericsson's optical customers, such as Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS)? Will they find themselves forced to take Ciena systems when it comes to their next upgrade cycle? (See Telstra Sticks With Ericsson for 100G.)

"The agreement allows our customers to select products from the Ciena portfolio. Each customer will be able to make their own decisions, whatever suits them," says the Ericsson man.

In terms of joint development and product integration, work will start on that straight away, says Häglund, with Ericsson aiming to integrate Ciena's optical modules on its Smart Services Router (SSR) platform to enable IPoWDM (IP over WDM).

In terms of SDN capabilities, "both companies are committed to open control of the IP and optical network elements. Ericsson has been working on the development of its IP platform, while Ciena brings expertise in the packet/optical domain. We will build on our involvement in OpenDaylight -- that is the basis for this joint development." (See Ericsson Balances 'Open' Future, Legacy Past, Ericsson Launches OpenDaylight Lab, and Ericsson's Network Slicing: It's Far Out, Man.)

Häglund said the new partners have R&D investment plans but they are not sharing them publicly.

How did the relationship come about? Is this agreement the result of customer pressure or did they meet at an SDN speed-dating party perhaps?

With the evolution towards collapsing network layers and the move to SDN, everyone is evaluating their options about what to do, whether to find a partner or take another route, notes Häglund. "We considered all our strategic options and are very happy with the outcome. This is positive for both companies and for our customers. This is a natural evolution and didn't happen because of any customers. We found each other -- there are only so many combinations that are possible. Obviously Ciena is a very good partner to have as it is in the top three optical companies in the world and the number one in North America and we have tremendous market reach and very strong professional services," added Häglund.

So, they found each other. That's an apposite message on February 14, no?

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
2/14/2014 | 12:26:46 PM
Re: Did they swap Valentine's line cards?


Just a note - ALWAYS negotiate the breakup first.  BD types hate that because they are in the lovey dovey phase of the relationship.  The reality is that at some point the businesses will have separate interests and pursue them separately.  If it is not planned for well, then the breakup is ugly.

There is more than optical overlap here (see WWP) and given's Cyan's trouble this bodes poorly for them.  I was thinking that Ciena might be a good acquirer of Cyan.  Given that OPEX for them is (on today's trajectory) going to exceed Revenue then they need to find a buyer before Marlin scoops them up.


Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
2/14/2014 | 11:04:11 AM
Re: Did they swap Valentine's line cards?
I think this could be a powerhouse match-up, but like most marriages, it will come down to the chemisty. Are these guys hooked up for the long-haul? 

Each has been smart in its own segment, but whether they can truly marry those strengths -- that requires an ambitious level of commitment.

User Rank: Blogger
2/14/2014 | 8:03:43 AM
Re: Did they swap Valentine's line cards?
Given some of the optical redundancy, I'll bet this was very much SDN-driven--two major players getting together to look at how networks will be designed and built in the future. Maybe they just said, "Let's not worry about where we have optical overlap--the future is bigger than that."

But on the optical front, the sizes and market reaches of Ciena's competitors, it also looks like a lot of potential optical market benefit for Ciena here.
User Rank: Blogger
2/14/2014 | 7:30:46 AM
Did they swap Valentine's line cards?
OK, enough of the Feb 14 tomfoolery....

This is a very interesting combination indede - if Ciena and Ericsson can find real cultural harmony this could work out.

Ericsson has been working hard on NFV and positioning its SSR for SDN architectures -- can Ciena bring enough to the table in SDN to make this a "more than the sum of their parts" relationship?

You can imagine how ALU, Huawei, Infinera, NSN, Coriant, ZTE etc etc will be talking about this today....
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