With video and data traffic skyrocketing, service providers are looking toward packet optical transport technologies and SDN as a way to provide the flexibility and scalability needed to support that traffic. This shift -- along with the shift toward network functions disaggregation, open source software and white boxes -- was the focus of a somewhat contentious panel hosted by Sterling Perrin, senior analyst at Heavy Reading , at the NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver this week.
During the panel, which was made up of four vendors and one service provider, panelists didn't hold back from some tongue-in-cheek name-calling ("ignorant" and "arrogant") when it came to vendor approaches in building programmable elastic networks in the optical layer.
Mike Capuano, vice president of global marketing at Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN), said building a flexible optical network on the line side where you can activate a wavelength with software, modulate and route it is the most important thing and where the most interesting work needs to be done.
"We do believe that installing something with the right cost structure with multiple carriers that can be turned on and off is the way to solve the problem -- not driving a truck out installing cards," he said. "Using software to turn latent bandwidth on and off makes it a truly flexible, elastic optical layer."
However, Scott Wilkinson, senior director of portfolio marketing at ECI Telecom Ltd. , told the audience that requirements of an elastic network are more than "moving wavelengths around. It really needs to be about getting into the layer 1 and even the layer 2 if you are talking about Carrier Ethernet. You really need to start thinking about looking at the different layers of transport and say, 'I have this traffic that's going here and if I have multilayer knowledge of what's going there, maybe I can make sure it doesn't drop into the next router,' " he said. "We can only do that if we have a flexible optical transport layer that goes all the way to the OTN layer and maybe the Ethernet layer."
But approaches also differ between smaller and larger service providers when it comes to disaggregating functions. The panel tackled the topic of functional disaggregation -- which has been led by AT&T -- and is the area of greatest functionality, scalability and flexibility going forward, according to Joe Mocerino, principal solutions architect of Packet Optical Networking at Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. "Being able to connect one vendor's transponder to another vendor's packet switch and another vendor's SDN management control and orchestration for end-to-end seamless operation -- that's what we see going forward," he said.
While smaller service providers find functional disaggregation "terrifying," according to Wilkinson, Travis Ewert, senior vice president of Global Network Software Development at Level 3 Communications, said the functional disaggregation enabled by packet optical transport technologies and SDN has saved the service provider tens of millions of dollars.
"We try to look at this as how to make networking look like Legos. Disaggregation for us and folks building networks with bring your own hardware, software, etc., has given us all kinds of options and $10 million-plus a year savings," he said. "The ability to piece things together Lego-fashion has been huge."
While larger service providers like AT&T and Level 3 are interested in disaggregation, smaller providers are not at all enthusiastic about taking it on, according to Wilkinson. "To them it sounds really nice but the idea of it is somewhat terrifying. They want to have someone to call if something breaks."
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Managing Editor, Light Reading