Optical/IP Networks

Thoughts on Supercomm

Certainly the mood at Supercomm 2001 was rather grave, but nothing like the sepulchral atmosphere at the Optical Fiber Communications Conference (OFC) earlier this year (see Exfo Releases Waveguide Analyzer).

I was struck by how many vendors have "refocused" their products to suit market demands. Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) now has a "Cerent Killer" and maybe an "ONI killer," too. Astral Point Communications Inc. has a next-gen Sonet box of its own now, much more focused on carrier demands for scaling metro Sonet rings cost-effectively while supporting STS1 (51.8 Mbit/s) switching within and among those rings. Sycamore Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SCMR) now has its large matrix grooming switch in response to customer demands for a scalable grooming platform; and ONI Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ONIS) continues to add data and aggregation function to their product line in order to more cost-effectively support services over metro DWDM.

Clearly, this is an evolving market, going through a rather hard time, but the products this year at Supercomm encouraged me with their maturity. A lot of what was promised last year was actually delivered. Opthos Inc. has a fascinating "true optical" transponderless twist on metro DWDM; and Movaz Networks Inc. looks to be building something that will guide future optical networking system developments for years. Its emphasis on an automatically switched network with an MPLS-based control plane is not new (Sycamore spent a long time messaging around this concept), but the pedigrees of the folks building the Movaz control plane are awesome.

That said, I'm thinking a new product category is in order: Wavelength Switched Optical Transport systems. In that group I would put Movaz, Princeton Optical Systems Inc. (renamed Firstwave Networks),Network Photonics Inc., Yotta Networks, Photuris, Opthos, and maybe ONI, if they get an optical switch to locate at the hub of their rings. Innovance Networks may also be a candidate, once we hear what they are up to.

The requirements of this category would appear to be:

1) An optical switch that tightly integrates transport, reducing or eliminating redundant transponder or OEO conversions in a metro network
2) a control plane that manages the provisioning of wavelengths, optical layer services, and interactions between the optical layer and data layer
3) DWDM, as these systems are based primarily on making wavelengths as inexpensive and flexible as possible in the metro.

Other products looking very mature to me included the new router platform from Allegro Networks; the mystery box (to everyone who hasn't seen it live) from Mahi Networks Inc.; "the answer" platform from Calix Networks; and the edge router from Laurel Networks.

In the world of edge routers, however, no one is impressing more these days than Unisphere Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: UNSP). In the U.S. they haven't made big waves, but you look around the world and a trend is emerging in new IP network builds: Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) at the core, Redstone/Unisphere at the edge.

And, finally, the Ethernet buzz will not subside. Some very good looking Ethernet products were at Supercomm, including those from Lantern Communications Inc. and Atrica Inc., both on the verge of making some noise in this space and furthering the progress of Ethernet in the metro area. No coincidence, then, that people kept sticking an odd little card in my hand that said "Metro Ethernet Forum." Next Tuesday we'll all know what it's about, though clearly a forum is needed to define Ethernet services specifications, regardless of what technology is used to support those services. Should be interesting.

Lastly, 40-Gbit/s seems to be table stakes these days, with most vendors saying they have it, can demonstrate a few channels of it, and will be shipping by the end of next year. Even Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), which had been saying they were not entirely convinced of its economic viability in DWDM networks had a little OC768 demo, with a fuzzy NRZ eye diagram to prove it. Besides the systems folks, many chipset vendors are jumping into 40-gig, while router vendors are faking it for now, combining multiple physical 10-Gbit/s ports into a logical link of 40 Gbit/s.

This was actually my kind of Supercomm. Not too hyped, not too busy, with lots of boxes with lights blinking, and provisioning systems pointing and clicking. And credit must be given to Ciena for staging a rather lavish party in this climate, complete with Cirque du Soleil gymnasts. Like the twisting acrobats high above the stage, Ciena is sans peur.

— Scott Clavenna, Director of Research, Light Reading
http://www.lightreading.com For more information on Supercomm 2001, please visit the Light Reading Supercomm 2001 Site.

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