Optical/IP Networks

Optical Taxonomy

There was a time when telecom equipment was easily defined. The basic plumbing was provided by Sonet kit, and services that ran over it each had their own dedicated devices -- telephone switches for voice, routers for Internet traffic, and so on.

Not any more. The opening of telecom services to competition and the arrival of optical networking technologies has led to a complex and confusing marketplace for equipment -- one that’s continually on the move as the service provider market itself evolves.

On the one hand, the vocabulary is changing as the fundamental architecture of telecom networks shifts from voice to data-centric, and as new developments like DWDM (dense wavelength-division multiplexing) and optical switches rewrite the rule books on how telecom networks should be designed.

On the other hand, the arrival of so many different types of carrier -- wholesalers, retailers, local carriers, long-distance carriers, ISPs, ASPs, and so on -- has led to a much wider range of equipment requirements.

Competition among carriers has also led to a much greater emphasis on cutting costs and offering higher-value services, and that's stimulated more product innovations.

The upshot is an explosion of new equipment categories, some of them genuine and some of them invented by marketing folk in their efforts to set their products apart from rival offerings.

And that’s leading to general confusion. It’s tough to keep track of all the new terms, like service-aware switches and optical packet nodes, and even harder to figure out what the differences are among them. To make matters worse, the names of product categories have a habit of changing as new buzz words come into fashion.

As a result, doing any sort of competitive analysis is tough, and that’s a big problem for everybody -- vendors trying to identify rivals, service providers trying to shortlist suppliers, and investors trying to pick winners.

That’s where this report comes in. It outlines a taxonomy for new-architecture telecom networks, identifying groups of equipment and showing where they sit in our view of things. Our goal is to help folk compare like with like, in the interests of oiling the wheels of competition.

The report starts by explaining our positioning matrix, which is largely based on the work of Sean Welch, vice president for marketing and sales at Tenor Networks Inc..

It then defines different product categories, shows how they fit into this matrix, and examines how issues such as the internal structures of some service providers might steer different types of operator towards different types of product.

The report then steps through each product category, defining it, showing where it fits in our positioning matrix, identifying key trends and giving our assessment of its prospects. Each page also lists vendors offering products and gives links to related Light Reading stories.

Links to the individual categories are given below:

DWDM Systems
(Metro, Enterprise, and Long Haul)

Optical Access

Multiservice Provisioning Platforms (MSPPs)
(Next-generation Sonet, Multiprotocol DWDM, and Optical Ethernet/IP).

Optical Switching

Service-Aware Switches
(Core MPLS Switches, Optical On-Ramps, and Multiservice Edge Switches)

IP Service Switches

Optical Packet Nodes
(Metro and Core)

Multilayer Data Switches
(Layers 2-3 and Layers 4-7)

Next-Generation Routers
(Edge/Aggregation and Core}

It’s important to realize that grouping products into categories like this is far from an exact science. We’ve done our best, but we would welcome input so that we can refine our assessments, add further companies to our lists, and possibly create new categories as the market continues to evolve.

If you want to do this privately, please send comments to [email protected]

Next page: Functional Framework

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Peter Heywood 12/4/2012 | 8:50:38 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy We're planning on using the positioning matrix described in this report in other Light Reading articles where it would help to identify the target market of a company or a product.

We think it'll aid more effective competitive analysis.

I've experimented with the idea in the Wavesmith story, by adding a graphic. on http://www.lightreading.com/do....

What you think?

[email protected]
Rugger 12/4/2012 | 8:50:36 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy Where's Corvis in your listing of optical switch vendors??? Corvis is the only one delivering today. What's up with that?
light_on_dude 12/4/2012 | 8:50:34 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy WOW! This article/story just sucks. Was this written by a high school student working on a mid term paper? I usually defend lightreading on these boards, but damn...you guys really just don't know what you are talking about. This report reminds me of the cheesey analysts that come by my booth at a trade show..."what bucket do you fit in? ok thank you , buh bye...no info just qucik hit...I'm sad to say but the blokes who call you the "Optical rumor rag" are right
arojas3 12/4/2012 | 8:50:33 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy Did you forget to research Lucent until halfway through the report? We invented optical networking - show some respect.
marcy281 12/4/2012 | 8:50:33 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy I think you have to realize that the bulk of your readers already know an awful lot about telecom, networks, switches etc. I realize you have to reach a wide audience, but it's depressing to read something like this--a telecom for dummies thing.
optinuts 12/4/2012 | 8:50:32 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy peter, its a good idea if you know enough about the product and its feature set. however, on reading the taxonomy report, you made so many errors (eg missing both corvis and lucent from the photonics switch list and a whole list of vendors from the other categories) that you will be generating hate mail more than constructive commentary.

you wrote a good report, you covered a lot of territory, but you should know there are limits to an idea.
Heater 12/4/2012 | 8:50:32 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy Granted, there are plenty of engineers who read Lightreading, but most of the folks who influence and/or control the purse strings are NOT engineers. Hence, if equipment vendors want to make sure their buyers are informed about what's going on in the optical market, they'd better be supportive of any efforts to educate those buyers.

Moreover, I don't think anyone has really done a good job of organizing/cataloging the optical market. This document looks like a very good start in that direction. Nice job guys.
Peter Heywood 12/4/2012 | 8:50:31 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy Ok, OK...I had a feeling we'd missed some obvious names. Just let us know and we'll update things.
pablo 12/4/2012 | 8:50:26 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy I just got to say that Scott Clavenna is a great analyst, with a keen eye for the essentials of the business.

This is an excellent piece.

Thanks LightReading!
Peter Heywood 12/4/2012 | 8:50:22 PM
re: Optical Taxonomy Light Reading got a private note from someone questioning our adoption of Tenor's analysis of the market - saying that we'd fallen into the trap of seeing the world through Tenor's eyes.

Just wanted to address this publicly:

We adopted the functional framwork put forward by Tenor, but this really only reflects widely accepted dividing lines in the market - between transport and services and between access, metro and core. I can't see how this could skew our vision.

When it came to selecting product catgories, positioning them in the functional framework and assembling lists of vendors, this was all our own work.

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