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Automating the optical network

Results from Heavy Reading's Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Networks Market Leadership Survey indicate that network operators have clear goals for their optical networks, and many understand the important role that openness and automation will play in achieving those goals. #sponsored

Sterling Perrin

August 24, 2022

4 Min Read
Automating the optical network

The optical layer is a pillar of the transport network. It has been an early target for openness and automation, given its broad role in networks. But what do operators really require from next-gen optical networks? And how will openness and automation help them meet their needs?

In May 2022, Heavy Reading conducted the inaugural Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Networks Market Leadership Survey with project partners Ciena, Fujitsu, Infinera and Juniper. The 2022 survey attracted 78 qualified network operator responses from around the world, sharing their views on transport automation timelines and requirements, cloud automation, optical line systems and IP over DWDM.

This blog is the third in a four-part series highlighting the key findings from the 2022 study. It focuses on the drivers and challenges in open optical networking.

Optical layer functions

When asked about functions that operators require from the optical layer, two rise to the top: the ability to move capacity flexibly and remotely across any path (selected by 71% of the survey group); and the ability to easily connect to new locations with minimal truck rolls (selected by 66%). Additional resiliency is also important to more than half of the survey group (53%). The identified functions align well with what we know about the mission of the optical layer from past research: to deliver the highest capacity flexibly, efficiently and resiliently. To get the most out of these functions, more programmability and automation will be required.

Also worth noting is that just 3% of respondents require nothing beyond basic (or "dumb pipes") connectivity. Service providers overwhelmingly want some higher level functionality from the optical layer.

What functions do you need from the optical layer?

Figure 1: n=77 (Source: Heavy Reading) n=77
(Source: Heavy Reading)

Drivers for optical layer automation

Significantly, the top drivers for automating open optical networks are closely tuned to these optical layer requirements. According to the survey, the top drivers for managing and automating open optical networks are optimizing network capacity, increasing end-to-end network visibility and improving network resiliency. Each of these drivers was selected by more than half of respondents.

Mapping these automation drivers to the key optical layer requirements, as identified by operators, we draw connections as follows:

  • Optimizing network capacity and fiber utilization delivers greater network bandwidth at lower costs per bit.

  • End-to-end visibility and inventory consolidation improve reliability while reducing truck rolls and increasing operations efficiency.

  • Automated service restoration increases resiliency.

What are the most important drivers for managing and automating your open optical network?

Figure 2: n=77 (Source: Heavy Reading) n=77
(Source: Heavy Reading)

Open transport challenges

In contrast to the proprietary (or closed) networks of the past, many operators are interested in open transport network architectures for the future. These operators believe open transport is needed to meet their goals. However, closed networks are easier to build than open networks, and operators face obstacles moving into the open transport era. The top three challenges to adopting open transport architectures, as identified in the survey, are troubleshooting/systems integration, interoperability testing and lack of common standards/models (ranked in descending order).

Heavy Reading used a weighting ranking system for the question in which each rank was given a score from 6 (top choice) to 1 (lowest choice), with a sum formula used to tally the score ( as shown in the figure). Analyzing the scores reveals a mean of 269.5 and a tight clustering of scores just above and just below the mean. The tight clustering suggests that operators consider all of the adoption challenges as relatively significant.

What are the primary challenges to adopting an open transport architecture? (Rank in order, where 1 = most challenging)

Figure 3: Note: The score is calculated by assigning a weight to each rating where the highest priority rating holds the highest weight. n=77 (Source: Heavy Reading) Note: The score is calculated by assigning a weight to each rating where the highest priority rating holds the highest weight.
n=77
(Source: Heavy Reading)

In summary, network operators have clear goals for their optical networks, and many understand the important role that openness and automation will play in achieving those goals in the future. Regarding the value proposition, they do not need much convincing. The work to be done now is in tackling the challenges that stand in the way as operators move from manual to automated and from closed to open transport networks.

Looking for more information?

The Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Network

Open, Automated, & Programmable Transport Networks: A 2022 Heavy Reading Survey

This blog is sponsored by Ciena.

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About the Author(s)

Sterling Perrin

Senior Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Sterling has more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications as an industry analyst and journalist. His coverage area at Heavy Reading is optical networking, including packet-optical transport and 5G transport.

Sterling joined Heavy Reading after five years at IDC, where he served as lead optical networks analyst, responsible for the firm’s optical networking subscription research and custom consulting activities. In addition to chairing and moderating many Light Reading events, Sterling is a NGON & DCI World Advisory Board member and past member of OFC’s N5 Market Watch Committee. Sterling is a highly sought-after source among the business and trade press.

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