Optical components

All-Optical Still Kicking

Vendors are saying the all-optical switch is making a small comeback, although it's arriving too late to save Corning Inc.'s (NYSE: GLW) IntelliSense division, which began closing down this week.

In fact, optical-switch fans will tell you "comeback" is too strong a word for what's going on. "I don't know that it ever disappeared, really," says Marlene Bourne, analyst with In-Stat/MDR.

What has disappeared is the dream of massive, 1,000-port crossconnects. In its place is a more realistic plan, one that began emerging just after the peak of the bubble: a small all-optical switch used for express-lane traffic, accompanied by a traditional OEO (optical-electrical-optical) switch for channels that need to be terminated.

"There is a lot of discussion between customers and their suppliers," although most of that hasn't translated into huge revenues yet, Bourne says. And it hasn't been enough to save the optical-switch firms that are shutting down (see OMM: The End Is Near and Onix: Another MEMS Casualty). But it could be good news for those still standing, including Advanced Optical MEMS Inc. (AOMEMS), Calient Networks Inc., Continuum Photonics Inc., Lynx Photonic Networks, Movaz Networks Inc., Optical Switch Corp., and Polatis Ltd.

The hype for massive port counts hit after Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT) made a $3 billion offer for startup Xros Inc. (see Nortel Spells Out Its Cross-Connect Strategy). "I remember talking to a particular customer who demanded [that we have] a road map to go to 2,000 ports," says Jas Sandhu, business development manager for Polatis. "I remember thinking, 'Is that where the game is?' "

Smaller numbers characterize the market now. Calient announced a subsystem version of its switch earlier this week, available in sizes from 32x32 to 256x256. Yesterday, Polatis announced a 4x4 switch -- a smaller version of its 16x16 product -- to be shown at next week's NFOEC (see Calient Shuffles to Subsystems and Polatis Shrinks Switches).

Calient CEO Charles Corbalis says the time is right for his company's subsystem, because equipment makers are looking again at technologies like optical switching that hit the back burner when the telecom boom went bust.

Corbalis seems aware that gear makers aren't going to bite on optical switches immediately. It could take 12 to 24 months for them to explore options and start deploying optical switching in networking equipment. In the meantime, optical switches can be used for several other applications, such as grid computing or lab testing.

For the latter, the technology offers a ready-made optical network for putting telecom devices through their paces. Without a switch, optical fiber must be manually reconfigured. Developers can save one-half to two-thirds on testing time with an optical switch, Corbalis says.

Polatis likewise sees the test market as a viable customer, one that's helped the company survive while laying low for the past year.

Polatis announced its 64x64 switch at the 2001 ECOC but had to pull back as the market collapsed. Company officials trimmed a Bragg grating product line and got busy raising money and hiring new executives, while refocusing development on a 16x16 switch (see Polatis Reveals Switch Secrets, Polatis Refocuses, Polatis Pulls Down $8.4M, and Polatis Appoints New CEO).

Polatis uses piezoelectric actuators to steer beams directly to the output fiber, making it one of the few non-MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) plays in optical switching. But MEMS still represents most of the efforts, and it's getting more vendors as Asian firms jump on board. LG Electronics Inc., Santec Corp., and SK Opto-Electronics Inc. (SKOE) are developing MEMS parts for optical networking; and Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA) has considered the idea as well, according to In-Stat's Bourne.

"These folks are being really stealthy and quiet about it," she says. "It's going to be interesting to see what they bring to the market."

IntelliSense Closes
Even if MEMS switching makes a comeback, it's not reason enough for Corning to hang onto IntelliSense, a provider of MEMS design software and foundry services, which was acquired in 2000 (see Big Vendors Acquire MEMS Makers).

IntelliSense's roughly 70 employees were notified early this week about the closing. Corning will continue to support IntelliSense's software "until it can be placed within a longer-term situation," a Corning spokeswoman says. Corning is also seeking buyers for some of IntelliSense's technology.

An IntelliSense closing has been rumored for a long time, as Corning has divested its photonics businesses (see Avanex Deal Reshapes Sector and Corning Chops Wavelength Blocker).

"Corning needs to focus on their core technologies, and if they're at a point where they need to cut costs, it makes sense -- kind of like JDS cutting off Cronos," Bourne says (see Memscap to Buy JDSU's Cronos).

Corning bought IntelliSense at a time when MEMS manufacturing capacity was scarce, but there's now an oversupply. And IntelliSense's design software is rivaled by products from Coventor Inc. and Memscap S.A. (Euronext: MEMS). So, the greater MEMS industry wouldn't be harmed if IntelliSense disappeared. "The pain would come more in the shock of a long-time respected company going under," Bourne says.

She does expect Corning to find a buyer for at least part of IntelliSense, though, considering the growing interest in MEMS in areas outside of telecom.

— Craig Matsumoto and Mary Jander, Senior Editors, Light Reading

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austin_powers 12/4/2012 | 11:28:11 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking What about Glimmerglass...? They appear to be a well kept secret. I have heard customers say good things about them.
As for the claims of Polatis, OMM already had a Telcordia qualified 16x16 and 32x32 which passed all the requirements that tough vendors like Siemens etc wanted (which Polatis has yet to do). But OMM could still not get a market going for such switch sizes. This is still going to be a tough market for all left.
CogswellCogs 12/4/2012 | 11:28:09 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking So, has anybody actually deployed an all-optical switch? Hmmmm.... makes you wonder...
materialgirl 12/4/2012 | 11:28:09 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking What is the point of optical switch R&D if both SCMR and CIEN are, by their own admission, 100% dead in the water with long haul optics. Tester markets are interesting, but not usually very large or profitable. Is there a meaningful metro spot for these things? If so, why are SCMR and CIEN blind to it?
MrLight 12/4/2012 | 11:28:06 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking austin_powers in regards to your post: GǣOptical Switches (OOO) Date: 09/05/03 05:41 PM Gǣ and your statement: " OMM already had a Telcordia qualified 16x16 and 32x32 which passed all the requirements that tough vendors like Siemens etc wanted "

OMM did not productize the 16x16 and the 32x32. They had an 8x8 that quite a number of companies used. Some startups even staked their business on OMM being around. I had the opportunity to consult for one of those.

As you will note the OMM announcement of Jul.16.01 stated Gǣ that its 2D switch arrays [the 8x8] -- the switch that it's shipping to the majority of its customers -- have passed Telcordia GR-1073-CORE, which gives specifications for optical switches; GR-1221-CORE, which concerns passive components; and GR-468-CORE, which covers active components such as lasers and detectors."

This was great news, however the main issue OMM faced was how to reduce the amount of time and effort it took to build an 8x8 device if they ever needed to ship in volume. The way they were doing it was not sustainable. However, that was and still is a mute point since OMM's customers had to first:

1)Figure out how to make an OOO switch be more than a glorified automated fiber patch panel. A very expensive one at that since all the front-end splitters and filters and post amplifiers overshadowed the actual switch core costs.
2)Sell an OOO switch in isolation of any networking equipment. As a lot of OOO startups also found was that without a optical line system either from a partner company or their own a OOO vendor on their own couldn't make it since an OOO switch sale is sold as part of a network and not on its own.
3)Compensate for the OOO switches lack of wavelength granularity.
4)Address the issue of very limited connection performance observability. Some did this by adding OPM cards, that were time-shared across the ports. Customers wanted continuous monitoring.
5)Reduce the system loss. Most OOO switches had a high through loss 6 to 12 dB once you added the monitoring splitters, splices, connectors, taps etc. so they required some form of amplification , sometimes pre- and post, with associated VOA, with their associated signal noise, power variations, and worst of all cost.
6)Market perception of poor reliability - yes per OMM's July.16.01 announcement "Each individual mirror in one of OMM's switch arrays has a so-called FIT rate (the number of failures in a billion hours of operation) of 60, and an entire 8x8 module has a FIT rate of about 600, says Burke. For comparison, a connector has a FIT rate of about 200 and a pump laser about 1000." But it still will take a while to get market acceptance for this. But to be fait the 600 FIT was a great achievement.
8)Sell potential customers on the value of mesh restoratiuon.
8)Get mesh restoration to work..
9)Provide path restoration across multiple OOO switches.
10)Get GMPLS functional between different vendors equipment.
11)Figure out what to do with the OSC.
12)Make the OOO switches DWDM aware.
13)Support some type of connection tagging or tracing that could be monitored in the OOO switch for automatic topology discovery.
14)Provide full redundancy so there is no single point of failure.
15)Provide in-service expandability from say 64x64 to 256x256 to 512x512 etc.
16)Work in a 5 to 90% non-condensing environment.

I could go on, since I was involved in a number of exploratory OOO and OEO (CLOS) switches, but the point is that it never was a question of OOO having value,it does, it was an question of how to apply it to solve the optical networking issues of the day.

One of those issues was the "Olympic Optical Ring" interconnect problem of cross-connecting disparate DWDM , SONET, G.709 Rings for example, another was the carrier-router through traffic bypass problem, but neither of these are solved by building a glorified fiber patch-panel.

MrLight ;-) who could dfiscuss the topic of OOO switches for a long long time
TheAce 12/4/2012 | 11:28:03 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking Why people keep confronting OEO and OOO?
The way to go is more of the Tellium approach by integrating an all-optical core for the fast lanes and OEO for the add/drops. You may have a pure all-optical switch but my view is that now it is most probable for applications in Automatic Patch Panels and Fiber Distribution Frames.
As for OMM, true they never commercialized beyond the 8x8 and moroever the switches they sold to customers had reliability problems (the 600 FIT figure never met reality), namely after few pop-ups the mirrors got stuck. Being the lead of the pack, this killed them and marks the milestone of dissapointment from MEMS micromirros. This poses a question whether MEMS micromirrors, in their current design pop-up 1D or 2D XROS/Lucent design, can serve in telecom.
The current trend among the survivors is merely a disillusion process. Even if they had a 1000x1000 working switch, how - for god sake - could analysts, CEOs, and VC investors think that a carrier will deploy a new technology based product - unproven in terms of years of field deployment - and jeopardize $M/minute revenue.
They simply did not get the fundemental nature of the business and buisness environment they were operating in. When OOO switches will penertarte the field it will happne from the edge of the network - where the risk of revenue loss is small - and migrate slowly to the core. Based on that understanding there was never a need for 1000x1000 switches and the only question is only when small-size, say 8x8 & 16x16, will get deployed and where.
The only guy who laughs at us now is Rajiv Ramaswami and few others that made millions out of hot air. It is amazing how these guys are getting repsect and the stage in conferences and meetings and that they are all settled in VC funds or whatever.
What does it tell you ? figure for yourself.
austin_powers 12/4/2012 | 11:28:01 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking Actually, we used OMM's switches in a trial network which is still running in Chicago with a consortium that includes SBC so I have to correct the comments about OMM only having productized 8x8's. I can fully confirm that both 8x8s and 16x16s were fully productized - they had both passed GR1221 and GR1073 as well as other tests to our specifications. I remember a good reference being a paper that Siemens ICN presented at OFC about two years ago that speficically goes into the reliability and productization of the 8x8s and 16x16s in a lot of detail.

From my memory from our last audit of the OMM factory in San Diego, I believe they had shipped (for sales revenue) about 1500 units to customers, about 900 were 8x8s and the remainder (600) were 16x16s. They had produced 1000's of units in the course of their life to make the product manufacturable and to get it qualified. They had sold only a handful of 32x32s (and oddly enough, only a handful of 4x4s). The 32x32s were not yet qualified when we audited OMM, just before they closed down. That has to be close to or more volume than all of the other switch manufacturers combined (at least greater than 2x2).

Anyway, I just wanted to correct some of the statements from previous message postings. We were quite happy with their products. They were priced right (roadmap for reduction was real), the most reliable product we could find. Unfortunately, the market isn't there and won't be for a long while.

Glimmerglass is probably the only viable player out there that we see but the market for OOO switching is not going to happen too soon for the remaining players to have an easy time staying around.
gea 12/4/2012 | 11:28:00 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking "they had both passed GR1221"

Let's remember that GR-1221 is an optical component GR--there's still a lot of work to be done to show that the switch systems built around said components will be reliable.

As for all-optical in general, I now believe that we'll start to see it in the metro first, in conjunction with CWDM. In that environment, a protocol-neutral (ie, non-SONET-centered) transport infrastructure with protection capabilities (perhaps MS-SPRING?) might make sense in some markets. So the low-channel count optical switches are going to be where any action heats up.
euroguy 12/4/2012 | 11:27:46 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking Couldn't agree more...we trialed OMM 8x8 and they could have been a supplier for us if there was a demand and/or cash flows were still strong to fund development...I suspect Polatis are turning to test & measurement because they don't know how to or haven't got the funding to get Telcordia qualification...for the foreseeable future, 5 years or so, OEO will rule, don't let anyone con you otherwise
Gnut 12/4/2012 | 11:27:46 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking http://www.lightreading.com/do...

Did C&W ever deploy any??
particle_man 12/4/2012 | 11:27:41 PM
re: All-Optical Still Kicking People miss a subtlety when it comes to OOO. If you have ever tried to design an OOO switch into a network, you quickly find it causes all sorts of design constraints. When an OOO device switches in a network it changes the path length of the signal. This changes the loss and dispersion. You have to then either design the network so the path length doesn't change (much) when a switching event occurs, or throw a lot of money at the problem. This can nail you in regional as well as LH links. BTDT.
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