Ciena CEO Gary Smith on Software's Brave New World

CM: The other new-age thing you've been working on is the programmable optical network. Let's talk about that.

GS: The first iteration of that is the combination of WaveLogic Ai technology and Blue Planet. When you combine that with a programmable line system, you get what we call Liquid Spectrum. For the first time, you get true programmability on the optical bits, with open automation software.

CM: How prepared are service providers for that degree of programmability? Granted, some are very, very prepared, but what about the mainstream?

When you go and talk to any of the executives, that's absolutely what they want -- the programmable network, with parameters you can control. The issue is: How do you actually deploy that? With WaveLogic Ai and the line systems, you can get that out into the field, but the issue is how you manage that from a software point of view. You look at the back office of most of the carriers, and it's not capable of managing that. That's where the Blue Planet domain comes in.

The real challenge is around how the carrier puts these elements together. It's a non-trivial thing for the carrier.

CM: Is it realistic to think that vendors like yourselves might become systems integrators, then?

GS: If you think about what we do now, you could say that we are systems integrators now on the optical side. What we're talking about with Blue Planet is extending that into being a systems integrator around automating a DevOps open-architecture platform on the software side. Said differently, you've got to wrap services around that, because from a software point of view, you've got to focus on an outcome for the customer, as opposed to, "Hey, here's a big piece of software. Go figure it out."

CM: That matches a lot of what I'm hearing, where the general approach is going to be about the outcome and not the next-faster level of technology.

GS: Yeah. The problem is that the carriers have this closed, locked back-office system that is proprietary. Typically, some large vendor has got them locked in, and they want to break out of that. If they're going to realize an open architecture that is programmable, etc., it's got to be a confluence of capabilities, very much embedded in a DevOps model. One of the challenges is that the operational side of the service providers, generally, doesn't have a lot of experience in a DevOps model.

Now, the IT side of the service provider does, in its CRM systems, etc. But the challenge is how you get that operational piece, in a DevOps environment, focused on outcomes. One of the opportunities we are focused on with Blue Planet is helping the service providers get to that outcome -- getting that software ecosystem focused on an outcome.

CM: A lot of the requirements we talk about -- DevOps, openness -- are really coming from the web-scale cloud guys. It sometimes feels like we're letting them define product strategy for the telcos, and I'm wondering if that's healthy.

GS: I don't so much think of it as "web-scale." Where a lot of this software approach and learning is coming from is the enterprise and data center. The challenge for the carriers is: How do they take those pieces and deploy and interpret them in a way that makes sense for their environment. And there are differences.

One of the biggest is: If you think about a data center environment or a web-scale environment, it's a very concentrated, at-scale environment. Carrier networks are entirely the opposite. They're distributed, by their very nature. And so, you've got this dichotomy: How do you take the learnings on the data center side, which provided things like white box, and deploy them in a very, very different environment, where it's completely distributed? I'm being sort of extreme here, but if I were to draw a contrast, that, I think, is the challenge of the carriers, and in many ways, Blue Planet and other elements like it are helping them make that transition.

CM: How about open source?

GS: A lot of the major carriers around the world simply don't have the resources to re-aggregate or embed open-architecture stuff. It's really around your point about systems integrators again. You see carriers saying: "I just want it all converged, and I want you to go deliver it, because we don't have the resources to do it. The economics and operational challenges are not worth us spending time to make sure it's all open sourced."

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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