Ciena Unveils Its Logical Next Step

New WaveLogic Ai hardware is designed to improve performance and lower cost-per-bit but also exposes link information to enable network automation.

October 31, 2016

4 Min Read
Ciena Unveils Its Logical Next Step

Ciena has unveiled WaveLogic Ai, the hardware foundation that underpins its plans to enable automated, software-driven networks and its next leap forward in optical network performance. (See Ciena Intros WaveLogic Ai, New Programmable Optical Gear.)

WaveLogic Ai (the Ai stands for automation and intelligence) is a fully programmable coherent modem that offers twice the capacity, three times the distance and four times the service density of current Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) optical systems, and is based on its internally developed custom ASICs.

WaveLogic Ai's programmability enables bandwidth to be dialed up in 50-Gig increments from 100 Gbit/s to 400 Gbit/s, but, just as importantly, it exposes much more data about what is happening in the network, a feature designed to enable real-time action by network operators.

Two such operators -- Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and ESnet (the Energy Sciences Network) -- stepped up to praise WaveLogic Ai at its formal announcement: In a statement included in Ciena's official press release, Glenn Wellbrock, Verizon's director of optical transport planning, states that the platform "brings a new paradigm for optical networks and is an important step in our future network evolution."

WaveLogic Ai becomes available in the second quarter of 2017, followed by further software pieces that add to its automation puzzle.

Joe Cumello, vice president of portfolio marketing, believes Wavelength Ai's performance improvements are enough by themselves to attract carrier customers. "But beyond density, scale and power -- the things [operators] traditionally buy optical for -- we are now also embracing intelligence and automation and exposing information a customer might need to build their next-generation network."

Today's optical networks lack accurate link data, and are built in a static way based on assumptions made in advance on how much margin needs to be built into a system, notes Cumello. Adding bandwidth usually means adding equipment, and when that is done reactively, the result is a high degree of inefficiency. That model won't stand up in the future, when network operators want software-defined networks to be able to turn up and turn down bandwidth on demand, and to detect and react to network issues before they become customer problems.

"We are actually exposing an incredible amount of data to allow our customers to tune the capacity of the network in these 50-Gig increments, including real-time link monitoring information that would allow them to collect and analyze data and then make automated decisions on the network," says Cumello. "We realize that our customers, through open interfaces, are going to want to be able to access the levels of intelligence in this type of data and be able to make intelligent decisions on that data."

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That information, which is updated every ten milliseconds, includes transmit and receive optical power, polarization channel characteristics, chromatic dispersion compensation, error rates, transmission latency and more. It is delivered upstream to a software control layer, to enable automated responses, Cumello says. "WaveLogic Ai is hardware foundational element that allows these elements to be built," notes the Ciena man, adding that, over time, the company will announce the software applications that deliver additional functionality.

WaveLogic Ai is built on Ciena's internally developed custom ASIC and uses half the power required for previous systems while delivering speed flexibility and four times the density of current systems, says Helen Xenos, Ciena's director of product marketing. "This drives down the cost per bit significantly," she says.

The bandwidth flexibility is intended to enable network operators to optimize bandwidth for the full range of their applications, from data center interconnect (DCI) in the metro space to long-haul networks, to subsea cable links, she says.

"This technology helps alleviate the burden of complex planning and integration work... because the chip is serving up information that normally has to be planned on a spreadsheet and [that normally] takes a while to figure out," Cumello says. "This is intended to future-proof the network."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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