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Is There Life on Ciena's Blue Planet?

Ray Le Maistre
10/14/2015
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DUSSELDORF, Germany -- SDN & OpenFlow World Congress -- Ciena has made a play for the hearts and minds of network operators keen to adopt multi-vendor next-generation hybrid networks with an update to its Blue Planet orchestration software that takes advantage of some key trends emerging in the New IP world.

Blue Planet was a key part of the New IP portfolio that Ciena brought on board when it acquired Cyan earlier this year for $400 million. Blue Planet was one of the first products that addressed the need by network operators to manage legacy and virtualized domains using the same management tool, capabilities that gave Cyan high-profile traction with operators such as CenturyLink and Colt. (See Ciena Absorbs Cyan for New IP Onslaught, Ciena's Cyan Buy: It's All About the Software, Cyan's CenturyLink Win Built on Experience, Flexibility, Colt a Significant Win for Cyan and Ciena to Acquire Cyan for $400M.)

Now Blue Planet has been updated to better serve the needs of progressive network operators that are introducing SDN and NFV capabilities into their networks, says Joe Cumello, VP of marketing at Ciena's Blue Planet Division, who explains that the system has migrated from a monolithic to a "microservices" design to enable much greater flexibility for customers.

Microservices is one of the hot terms in the New IP world right now: It refers to a modular approach to building applications, using multiple discrete software building blocks that communicate with each other via APIs. (There is a useful explanation of the microservices approach here.)

It is also closely tied to one of the other hot terms -- containers. (For insight into this trend, see Containers a Critical Piece of Telecom's Future.)

Cumello believes that the adoption of a microservices approach is "critical for the network virtualization movement in general. It makes it much easier to do development -- in monolithic systems it is difficult to test and change things… there are millions of lines of code. With a microservices approach, it is much easier to adapt and change things and it enables customers to enhance applications themselves. The development team at an operator, for example, could develop their own code to meet their specific needs and add it or swap it [for an existing building block]. It is very DevOps friendly," says Cumello.

So Blue Planet has, so far, been monolithic, clunky and a pain to adapt and test? "Er… I wouldn't say that. It is now much more customer friendly," says the marketing man.

Cumello is happy to pin the "monolithic" label on the orchestration and management systems on offer from Ciena's competitors such as Alcatel-Lucent and Cisco, though. "From the others, every capability -- SDN controller, MANO, orchestrator -- is a separate application that has to be bought and integrated individually. All these applications are enabled by Blue Planet," with customers able to pick and choose which capabilities they want to deploy from Blue Planet's building blocks, as well as integrate third-party applications.

The Ciena man also explains that Blue Planet now also supports: TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications), a standardized template language, to enable customers to develop their own code: BPMN 2.0 (business process model and notation), a business process tool (much used in the enterprise networking world) that enables easier interworking between the Blue Planet orchestration application and existing OSS and BSS systems; multiple open source or standards code bases, including Netconf/Yang, Docker, Linux and more; and interoperability with third party platforms through the APIs that can be configured using Ciena's Resource Adapter tool.


Need to know more about the management and orchestration of virtual network functions? Then check out our dedicated NFV MANO content channel here on Light Reading.


So is Ciena taking Blue Planet into the right orbit?

Caroline Chappell, Principal Analyst, Cloud and NFV, at Heavy Reading , believes it is. "I think the microservices approach is promising and disruptive to the OSS status quo. The gamble Ciena is taking is that if an operator is going to go through the pain of an OSS transformation in order to support the new dynamic realities of NFV and SDN, it might as well be radical and prepare for a microservices-based future," she notes.

"Some view a microservices approach as 'SOA [service-oriented architecture] done right,' in that it does support the plugging and playing of components through APIs, but in a much more flexible manner. Cyan enables management and orchestration microservices to be assembled in flexible ways so that operators only need to take the function that's of interest and use to them and they can plug in third-party components, from path computation element algorithms and open source instrumentation to salesforce.com. Such flexibility is likely to be highly appealing to operators kicking against monolithic, vendor-proprietary OSS suites they feel they're currently locked into," adds the Heavy Reading specialist.

"It also allows operators to use much less costly, industry standard applications, such as Salesforce.com, rather than, for example, expensive product catalogs developed specifically for the telco industry," says Chappell. "This is the API economy in action… I expect other vendors with ambitions to offer a next-generation OSS for NFV/SDN to follow Ciena's lead and base their offers on a microservices architecture."

Chappell also believes that adopting BPMN is "a very clever move by Ciena up the OSS stack... BPM support allows operators to integrate Blue Planet as the service orchestration/MANO activity within [multiple processes] that would be otherwise controlled by an existing OSS suite. It also gives them the tools to model processes that potentially disintermediate functions within that OSS suite -- processes that might run instead across Blue Planet or, for example, salesforce.com."

So Ciena appears to have developed Blue Planet into an operator sweetspot, especially as major Tier 1 operators such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) are clearly supporting a container-driven approach to NFV development.

Does this mean Ciena has AT&T firmly in its sights as its next marquee customers for Blue Planet? "We believe the new approach is applicable to the large operators. Self-service programmability is what the large operators want. But I can't talk about any names. AT&T will make its own decisions," says Cumello.

In fact Cumello can't really talk about any Blue Planet customers beyond Colt and CenturyLink. "We're working on a number of customer engagements. I can't say if we have any more live deployments," says the Ciena man.

But if Heavy Reading's Chappell is right, further Blue Planet customer announcements should be in the stars.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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10/14/2015 | 9:54:48 AM
2016 - the year of microservices?
Early indications are that 'microservices' and containerization are going to be the hot topics for network R&D teams in 2016....
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