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Infinera's Metro Power Play

Ray Le Maistre

Infinera has upgraded the popular metro transport aggregation platform that it brought on board with the acquisition of Transmode two years ago by boosting the density, lowering the latency and cutting the power consumption.

As a result of the upgrade, Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) is also adding the upgraded packet-optical system, called XTM II, to its data center interconnection (DCI) line-up, providing another option for Tier 2 or 3 operators. The vendor also notes that, while photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology has not been integrated in this upgrade, there are still plans to add it to the platform.

The new upgrade is designed to meet the current and near-future needs of metro transport network operators -- namely, the ability to deal with greater volumes of data traffic towards the edge of the network in an increasingly efficient way as cloud, enterprise, high-res video and mobile broadband usage continue to ramp up.

Infinera says the XTM II, which succeeds the XTM system widely deployed across Europe, meets those needs by adding 200 Gbit/s-per-wavelength capabilities, boosting platform density eight-fold and reducing the power consumption per gigabit by a magnitude of 3.5 (more on that in a moment). The XTM II also includes the vendor's Instant Bandwidth functionality ("enabling the on-demand licensing of 100G bandwidth increments"), SDN capabilities and "an open flexible grid line system."

The 200 Gbit/s-per-wavelength feature comes from a number of options: A 200G Layer 1 Muxponder; a 400G Flexponder (a dual 200G muxponder that uses 16QAM for high-capacity transport); and a Layer 2 packet-optical transport switch, the EMXP440, that comprises 200G/dual 100G ports and 12 or 24 10G ports. (For the full details on these options see Infinera Unveils XTM II for Cloud Scale Metro Packet-Optical Applications.).

The physical size of the XTM II system options is also worth noting, especially as the competition for space at metro and edge network locations becomes greater as operators add more IT gear (storage, compute) to support their cloud and IoT strategies. The 1RU high/300mm deep unit has 400Gbit/s capacity; the 3RU high/300mm deep system has 1.6 Tbit/s capacity; and the 11RU high/300mm deep system has 4 Tbit/s capacity. Each of the systems accommodate pluggable CFP2 optical modules, which analysts believe is an important move.

The power consumption advances are particularly noteworthy. Infinera claims the XTM II offers the "lowest power consumption in the industry for 100/200G transport," and that its "nearest competitor" (unidentified) has "74% higher power consumption per 100G."

So are these independently verified claims? Alas no. Such stats are based on a combination of specification sheets and what Infinera believes it knows about its rivals' systems, admits Jon Baldry, Infinera's director of metro marketing. By the end of next week, it's possible such claims may need to be revised, as a flurry of optical product announcements is likely in the buildup to (and during) the annual Next Generation Optical Networking (NGON) Europe event in Nice (June 20-22).

But that doesn't mean the claims are not valid or, importantly, not of great interest to existing XTM platform customers and potential users. Power consumption is becoming increasingly important for network operators as they strive to reduce their operating costs while deploying increasingly dense meshes of fixed and wireless network elements.

"This is a big step. It's an optimized edge aggregation [platform] that's low power and with a significant increase in density… this is going to create a lot of new opportunities," says Karl Thedéen, senior vice president and head of Metro Business Group at Infinera. Those opportunities include "lower range" DCI, 10Gbit/s metro aggregation and, for cable operators, aggregating traffic in distributed access architectures (Remote PHY).

Those advances, along with all the other features and functionality, make for an attractive platform that will certainly be of interest to existing XTM users, according to Heavy Reading principal analyst and optical expert Sterling Perrin. This release "is a big deal for the installed base of legacy Transmode customers, of which there is quite a bit, especially in Europe, as it gives them a backward-compatible way to move to a new system, with 200G wavelengths, greater density and better power specs," notes Perrin, adding that those claimed power specs make for a "very strong" proposition, enabled "in part because they don’t have a centralized switch fabric drawing power."

The inclusion of pluggable modules also caught Perrin's attention. "For their customers, yes, this is the right move to make. Otherwise, they'd have to force new systems on their entire installed base -- essentially no different from a forced vendor change," notes the analyst.

But, adds the Heavy Reading man, the challenge for Infinera comes with the "strategic positioning" of such a move, "particularly with investors. They spend so much time talking about the PIC as the key differentiator. Here, they have to say PIC was not the best solution for the market and explain why. But then the next question becomes… if PIC is not best for aggregation, is it really best for DCI? And then they have to address that point. So the 'PIC there, but not here' strategy will continue to complicate Infinera's story."

So has Infinera abandoned its plans to put PIC technology in the XTM (former Transmode) platforms?

"Absolutely not," says Baldry. "It is still our intention to bring PIC/ICE [Infinite Capacity Engine] technology into the metro/XTM Series platforms… We took the decision to use CFP2 technology in this case as it gave backwards compatibility to our existing deployed base of 100G cards which is quite substantial now, but when we look to the next steps we'll have the unique position in the market to have both PIC/ICE technology and open market pluggables to select from." (See Infinera Unveils Infinite Capacity Engine.)

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

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