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Optical/IP

OpenFlow's Optical Connection

11:25 AM -- SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Open Networking Summit -- OpenFlow is a Layer 2 technology, and software defined networking (SDN) is a discussion about Layers 2 and 3. It's switch-and-router stuff.

But some of the technology's biggest fans might be working at Layer 1. If SDN takes off, it might be great news for optical transport.

I hadn't thought of it that way until talking to Ping Pan, an architect at Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN), Tuesday afternoon. For him, the appeal of SDN is that it lessens the importance of Layer 3 intelligence.

That's because SDN turns the network "sideways," as he puts it. Rather than let Layer 3 decide where packets go, the network now gets told to get this much bandwidth to that application by any means possible. It doesn't matter what kind of box executes that command.

"Now all you need is northbound API [application programming interface]," Pan says. "Why would you put a router in front of us? That's not what Google's doing. They're saying they don't need a router."

Google, in fact, is running OpenFlow on 100 percent of its internal backbone, a project that was the subject of Tuesday morning's keynote. (See Google Uses OpenFlow Massively.)

I don't think Infinera is the only optical company that sees this. While Pan and I talked, someone with a Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) badge walked past. Come to think of it, I also spent part of lunch with Fred Gruman, principal product planner at Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. , who came here to learn more about what's been happening in SDN. It wouldn't be a stretch for him to have reached the same conclusions.

What Pan finds exciting is the prospect of some of the revenue coming back down to the transport layer. It would break the trend of the better margins always being found further up the stack, letting the transport side make better money on all this bandwidth growth.

He puts it this way: The router guys are scared of SDN, he thinks. Software people are happy about it, but in a general way, they don't yet know how SDN is going to be applied. But the transport guys should be ecstatic.

The downside is if more companies follow Google's "none of the above" route by using generic switches. (Google's are homegrown, but that's an anomaly.) Still, carriers aren't going to stop needing optical transport. Maybe SDN is a chance for them to really converge some network layers.

— Craig Matsumoto, Managing Editor, Light Reading

wildcard22 12/5/2012 | 5:36:03 PM
re: OpenFlow's Optical Connection "Maybe SDN is a chance for them to really converge some layers"

http://www.openflow.org/wk/ind...
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:36:02 PM
re: OpenFlow's Optical Connection

A magic brain in the sky can just tell us how to set up optical circuits for every application and it will all be dynamically reconfigurable and stuff!


And it'll all be plug-and-play! Don't forget plug-and-play (which even today fails me between a PC and a printer - weren't they supposed to have fixed that, like, 10 years ago?)


Your skepticism is well placed. This will all be a lot harder than I made it sound.


At least, tens of thousands of network engineers hope so -- It's Day 2 of the conference and the issue of long-term employment just came up after Nick McKeown's talk. He admits you won't need so many people to configure the network but hopes you'll have more people programming the network.

ethertype 12/5/2012 | 5:36:02 PM
re: OpenFlow's Optical Connection

A magic brain in the sky can just tell us how to set up optical circuits for every application and it will all be dynamically reconfigurable and stuff!

patentchoi 12/5/2012 | 5:36:02 PM
re: OpenFlow's Optical Connection

Using openflow does not imply that the box is not doing IP routing. I thought Google said that building the hardware itself is cheap, not that routing is not required. How does this directly translate to higher revenue for transport. If open flow is used for cost savings then the driver is to reduce the budget ... does not imply that transport would directly benefit.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:36:01 PM
re: OpenFlow's Optical Connection

Google did indeed say they *are* using routing -- open-source BGP and IS-IS. Good point, Nooser. Pan and I are extrapolating a bit from that talk.


I like your point. If cost-savings is the main driver -- and if those cost-savings come mainly from the network being more automatic..... then the changes might not be all that revolutionary, at least from an equipment-vendor POV.


But SDN has people coming up with lots of new ideas -- that's part of the fun.

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