Cisco Shows Some Optical Love

Trying to show that optical networking is not being abandoned on the doorstep, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is trotting out some new pieces for the flagship ONS 15454 optical system.

Today, Cisco announced a 40-channel reconfigurable optical add-drop multiplexer (ROADM) for 15454. It's also launching what it calls an Ethernet Xponder (pronounced "cross-ponder") and a one-blade multiservice provisioning platform (MSPP).

The products certainly exist and needed announcing, but a more important backdrop is that Cisco is taking the opportunity to say it still believes in optical. (See Into the White.)

Word has it, Cisco tried and failed to sell its optical division, turning down at least two lowball offers last year. (See Optical: Cisco's Odd Man Out? and Sources: Cisco Rejects Optical Bids.) Light Reading has since heard Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) and Turin Networks Inc. were at least two of the companies that turned Cisco down.

Cicso won't confirm that any of this happened, nor has the company ever confessed to putting optical on the block.

"Cisco is committed to investing in the optical business," says Mike Capuano, a Cisco senior marketing manager. "We're trying to put our money where our mouth is."

Cisco's IP-over-DWDM efforts, where routers are being equipped with DWDM optics, tie into the same idea. (See Cisco's CRS-1 Goes Optical.)

"We see, long-term, a convergence, with providers trying to converge to a single service network and eliminating as many layers in the network as possible," Capuano says.

Still, "optical" doesn't mean what it did seven years ago.

"The optical that they have remaining is just kind of a byproduct of the optical of old and it’s really just to enable router and switch sales," writes analyst Mark Lutkowitz of Telecom Pragmatics, in an email to Light Reading. "So, its commitment to optical is still a secondary concern -- and more in support of its more dominant product lines."

What's left is primarily the 15454, which happens to have been the most successful of Cisco's optical acquisitions. It was also the most stunning, as Cerent, which developed the box, was acquired for $6.9 billion in stock in 1999.

The 15454 continues to generate revenues -- Cisco says optical sales during its January quarter were up 40 percent from the previous year. But that's an anomaly; Cisco can't expect that kind of growth consistently from optical. With the company aggressively trying to get into video and consumer markets, and setting goals of 10 to 15 percent growth every year, optical networking doesn't have the same importance it used to, sources close to the company say.

Meanwhile, Ajaib Bhadare, a Cerent founder brought back into Cisco to run the optical team, has left Cisco, but the company isn't explaining the circumstances. (See Headcount: Wrong Way Huawei.)

Word has it Bhadare helped move the bulk of Cisco's optical operations to India, but Cisco says that's not so.

"I'm working with lots of folks from what I guess you'd consider the former Cerent team," Capuano says. Cisco isn't saying how many employees are at Cerent's former Petaluma, Calif. site.

Oh yeah, the products
So, how about these new products? The ROADM taps into the latest trend of eight-degree ROADMs -- that is, it has eight inputs and outputs rather than just two. This lets the ROADM work in mesh networks, as opposed to the rings that needed only an eastbound and westbound interface.

The Xponder is an Ethernet add-drop card mashed up with a transponder. It's used for Layer 2 aggregation of Gigabit Ethernet feeds into 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, or for offloading a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet when it's reached its destination node.

The Xponder can also do subwavelength adding and dropping, allowing carriers to pack multiple services on a wavelength as opposed to reserving entire wavelengths for each service.

The MSPP-on-a-blade can take the place of a DWDM card on the 15454, giving the system a hybrid quality. "You can think of it as a single shelf doing DWDM and Ethernet and Sonet," Capuano says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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marionetteworks 12/5/2012 | 3:11:44 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love The 15454 has been around forever... what were some of its competitors from Nortel and Ciena? I need a refresher.
somedumbPM 12/5/2012 | 3:11:42 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love Nortel's direct equivalent was/is the Optera 3500, although there are other smaller footprint versions in the 3000 series for limited applications.

Since then Nortel has moved the development of the "sexier features of the day" mostly to the OME 6500 box which is also based on the 3000 series code. There used to be 2 different loads based upon your application needs for the device and they could not be run concurrently, but with the last release those loads were merged into one. Some, I hear, are looking at this as a Connect DX alternative as well.

To be honest I have not kept up with anything in regards to the DX, HDX, or any LH stuff in a while as my concerns have all been Metro based for 3 years now.

I cannot assist with the Ciena side either, sorry....
paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:11:41 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love
The Ciena thing was Cyras.....which went the way of the Dodo bird.

toad 12/5/2012 | 3:11:40 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love Ciena's competitor to the 454 DWDM platform was the ONLINE Metro, acquired through ONI Systems and considered by some the Cadillac of Metro DWDM systems. But that platform isn't their front runner any longer. Ciena's latest generation DWDM Metro platform is the CN 4200, which leap frogs anything new coming from both Nortel and Cisco. They are both playing catch up to Ciena now and will be for a while. See below.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:11:40 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love Yeah, I'd agree the 4200 is sized up to be the 15454 competitor.

But originally it was Cyras; good point. Cisco certainly isn't the only company to have a big optical investment go bust.
somedumbPM 12/5/2012 | 3:11:39 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love uhmmm the 4200 appears to be new and does not support ds1s or ds3s. If we are talking the direct equivalents I do not consider the 4200 to be that.

Taking a quick look at the Ciena site I;d think the 6050 would be closer, but that appears to be newer too and more of a direct competitor with Nortel's OME6500 which has been out for about 2 years now. There may be a better match, but I have no knowledge history of Ciena gear whatsoever. Hell the only box I have ever seen of theirs actually in-service is the CoreDirector.

The original poster asked what were the direct competitors. I know the Optera 3500 is that from Nortel.

New should always trounce old, but Cisco has a lot of experience of making a new feature attaching it to an existing product with some sort of Silly Putty or a IBM Universal Business Adapter (aka big ball of clay with a bunch of interfaces sticking out of it). The putty or clay may cover up of the old features, but the new ones will work.

That being said, I have no idea if Cisco has any new equivalent either. I have only been presented with 15454 add-ons for the last few years.
vvdip1 12/5/2012 | 3:11:32 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love The Ciena CN4200 is the direct competitor to the 15454. It is more flexible and cost a fraction of what the 15454 costs. It may not do DS-1 or DS-3, but most companies looking at DWDM are using higher speed links of OC-3 or higher. The CN4200 card can trasnport FICON, ESCON, FibreChannel, Ethernet AND SONET on the same client card and port characteristics can be changed via software.

Also, it is the only DWDM platform that has been certified by IBM for GDPS.
toad 12/5/2012 | 3:11:31 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love mainline - you are comparing apples to oranges.

I don't believe Cisco's core competency is in the DWDM domain. Even Nortel has shifted from DWDM to wireless as their core business. Ciena has helped to invent DWDM and it has always been their core competency.

Up until recently it was rumored for the last year that Cisco was trying to sell their optical business and finally decided to re-invest in it since nobody would buy it. If you look at who spends more on R&D in the DWDM world, I would bet it's Ciena and not Cisco.

Cisco's recent press release is part of the "Marketing Machine" that we all have come to expect from them. Cisco is just announcing features/functionality that Ciena has had in their product for almost 2 years now, aside from multi-degree ROADMs, which only apply to Service Providers networks.

As someone mentioned earlier, the 454 and 5200 are much more expensive than the 4200. From what I've read on the product the 4200 is a completely new architecture for DWDM with integrated switching at the sub-wavelength level and programmable ports. It also supports any protocol, including SONET over the same wavelength. I think that would simplify the network and make it more efficient, saving the end-customer money. Now, that's innovation!
toad 12/5/2012 | 3:11:31 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love I think what wdip1 was trying to say is that the 4200 is the only DWDM platform that is certified for IBM's new version of GDPS, which is STP. My understanding is that IBM has announced that they will no longer deploy any greenfield GDPS environments as of January '07. All new deployments will require the newer STP (Server Time Protocol) which can support distances of up to 100km without requiring CLO and ETR signaling. This will give mainframe customers greater flexibility in selecting DR sites that are further than the 40km limitation of CLO and ETR.
WDM amateur 12/5/2012 | 3:11:31 PM
re: Cisco Shows Some Optical Love "Also, it is the only DWDM platform that has been certified by IBM for GDPS"

Absolute rubbish!!


Lucent, Nortel, Cisco, ADVA all have qualified DWDM platforms
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