Ciena CTO Says No to Skynet, Advocates Adaptive Networks

KZ: How does Ciena's Adaptive Network come in to play in terms of 5G planning?

SA: The Adaptive Network is a principle that says we'll have telemetry and analytics fed up out of the network from both physical and virtual devices. It's going to go through a layer of intelligence and automation and based on observables in the network, ideas around self-learning and machine learning, being able to go back and program the network to behave or operate the way you want it to and adapt to certain circumstances. It's a way you can do all the capacity and connectivity planning necessary for 5G but in a way that the network itself can respond to changes.

If you think about how networks are built, there are always functions that are inherently automatic in the network -- a good example is protection switching. When something breaks or fails, you want it to automatically protect. Some functions in the network are inherently autonomous, like mesh restoration. "Plug-and-play" is generally autonomous, IP re-route is autonomous. But those things are always governed by some rules or policies. Where the adaptation piece comes in is when the network is presented with things that are unanticipated -- additional traffic, connectivity and service types. How does that adapt that combination of automatic and autonomous functions, physical and virtual devices? How does all that adapt and reconfigure to meet the needs of what the network is being asked to do?

That's why we like the term "adaptive" instead of "autonomous" -- we believe the entire network -- the virtual and physical elements, algorithms, the way the network is stitched together -- that entire ecosystem needs to be adaptive.

Autonomous networks to some people are like Skynet from the Terminator movies -- they don't want it to be autonomous, they want it to be more policy or intent-based and give it high-level instructions and the network should be intelligent enough to figure out what to do.

KZ: How is the Cyan acquisition paying off for Ciena and how is it helping carrier networks to automate or adapt?

SA: Cyan brought to us the intelligence layer, where we can talk to all the physical and network devices, existing databases and equipment and automate the network functionality. It brought us software and analytical skillsets. It was an acquisition of product line, customer relationships and basic technologies that we wanted.

KZ: How does the result of that acquisition help carriers reduce costs and add revenue?

SA: We've defined use cases where we can offer specific solutions to carriers -- it's very scenario-dependent on what the carrier is trying to do and where we can have the biggest impact on cost. Sometimes it's provisioning new services, sometimes automating the provisioning of older services, sometimes managing an infrastructure where the inherent way they manage it is manual, but the procedures they use are amenable to automation to get costs down.

— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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Michelle 6/26/2018 | 9:15:33 PM
Improvements Adaptive networks sound fantastic. I'm relieved we won't be meeting up with Skynet anytime soon. 
Gabriel Brown 6/15/2018 | 4:10:28 AM
Re: The Adaptive Company Also interesting he chose to mention Time Sensitive Networking. 

One curiosity is that you can run 5G over TSN (e.g. for Ethernet fronthaul, x-haul, etc.). And in other contexts you can run TSN over 5G radio (e.g. or industrial IoT). Simples ;)
Kelsey Ziser 6/14/2018 | 4:41:41 PM
Re: The Adaptive Company @Sterling thanks for providing that historical context. The Adaptive Network discussion came up throughout the Vectors event and Ciena discussed how their different technologies fit into the Adaptive Network layers of programmable infrastructure; analytics and intelligence; and software control and automation.
Sterling Perrin 6/14/2018 | 4:25:16 PM
The Adaptive Company Good interview.

One thing that occurs to me in reading this is how little Steve's comments have in common with what he would have been talking about 20 or even 10 years ago - it was once all about DWDM and optical switching. The ability to adapt to market changes is a big part of why Ciena is around today and many others are not. 

In the early days of optical switching, I remember many conversations with Tellabs in which they said they have no need to move away from their massive DCS business. When the "telecom winter" hit in 2001, rival Sycamore hibernated to wait it out while Ciena made acquisition bets to expand into new areas. Nortel was once the world optics leader, but Ciena outlasted them, etc.

On one level, the heavy software and automation focus seems a stretch for this company, but they do have a long history of understanding coming change and making the right moves in advance. Steve Alexander certainly contributed to that success.

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