Cyan Plays God With Optical

Another C-level startup? After Cerent and Calix, Michael Hatfield is hoping to strike optical gold in the packet-optical market

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

September 15, 2009

6 Min Read
Cyan Plays God With Optical

Who says the God Box is dead?

Cyan Optics Inc. is ready to smite nonbelievers today by officially launching its Z77 and Z33, packet-optical transport systems (P-OTSs) that can do Ethernet and Sonet transport, DWDM, and can even act as reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexers (ROADMs).

More than just a mashing-together of systems, the Z-series was built with convergence in mind, Cyan claims. Among the accomplishments Cyan boasts about most is a management system that uses 3D imaging to show how the layers of the network intertwine -- especially the packet and optical layers, which are usually kept apart like chocolate and peanut butter (pre-Reese's).

To top it all off, Cyan claims to have 20 customers. They aren't all in telecom, but still -- that's 20 companies that don't mind trying a startup's all-in-one transport system.

P-OTS is the next-generation replacement for multiservice Sonet/SDH gear -- i.e., multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs) -- and the idea has caught the attention of many a carrier or vendor. (See Packet-Optical Transport: What's in Store for 2009?) Still, upon seeing the Cyan box, one can't help but think of the "god box" banner and the parade of failed startups marching behind it. (See God is Dead.)

Cyan founder Michael Hatfield -- the guy behind Cerent and Calix Inc. (NYSE: CALX) -- doesn't care.

"Every box I've ever done has been a god box," Hatfield tells Light Reading. "AFC [now a Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) property] was the integration of fiber and copper in the loop, which nobody had ever done. Cerent was an integration of OC3, 12, 48, and 192; before that, every Sonet [speed] was its own box." And Calix mashed DSL and PON together.

Hatfield's companies have decent track records. Cerent's ONS 15454 became the well respected optical flagship at Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and continues to sell even though the base chassis is getting older and older. Calix, stubbornly staying privately held, is one of the success stories of the broadband access space. (See Cerent, Calix Founder Forms Optical Startup.)

Now Hatfield is trying for a hat trick with Cyan. It's based in Petaluma, Calif., as its predecessors were, and the executive team includes veterans of Calix and Turin (now Force10 Networks Inc. ).

The company isn't saying how much it's raised with its three rounds of funding, but the first round was worth $8.75 million and included investors that have followed Hatfield through his career. Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) invested, too, in the last two rounds. (See Cyan Gets Some Green.)

P-OTS heads
Cyan officials prefer the term "multilayer," but the Z-series definitely counts as P-OTS, challenging systems such as the Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) CN 4200, the Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. Flashwave 9500, and the Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) 1850 Transport Service Switch.

One could argue Cyan has one of the first purpose-built packet-optical systems. "It sounds right on the money. It fits into what we're tracking in the P-OTS market," says Heavy Reading analyst Sterling Perrin.

Part of Cyan's pitch is the scale of its box, with ports designed to handle "several hundred" gigabits per second of traffic, according to Frank Wiener, vice president of marketing and business development.

But another attractive feature is the Z-series' purpose-built nature, writes IDC analyst Eve Griliches in a report on Cyan. For example: "The P-OTS products shipping today are optimized for TDM and packets, but the cost of the fabric structure is such that when the time comes and the box is filled with packet interfaces, it will not be as cost effective as a newer product that is 'purpose-built' and optimized for packet traffic over TDM traffic."

The Z-series doesn't have to be bought as a god box. It's modular, so an operator could ignore the ROADM aspect, or never touch a Sonet card. But that kind of modularity in P-OTS isn't going to be special for long. "That differentiates them from some of the other players, but not all of them. The whole industry is moving towards modularity," Perrin says.

Perrin adds that Cyan faces an obvious handicap: Despite having a name-brand CEO, it's still a startup going up against larger competitors. And big telecom customers tend to favor the established vendors. (See AT&T Unveils Domain Supplier Strategy.)

As for what's in the box -- well, true to god box form, there's a lot. The Z77 has 14 useable slots, and the Z33 has six. Either can be outfitted with Sonet/SDH (down to OC3, or 155 Mbit/s) or Ethernet cards, with built-in gateway capabilities to translate between those protocols.

The Ethernet cards have their own switches with 80-Gbit/s capacity, meaning the Z-series can be used as plain Ethernet boxes if you really want, without having to add separate switching cards. All told, Cyan claims the Z77 can handle 840 Gbit/s of packet traffic or 720 Gbit/s of Sonet/SDH. Both cases include protection paths for the traffic.

Moving to the optical side, the systems provide optical transport network (OTN) support and can pack 40 DWDM channels per fiber.

They can also be outfitted with ROADM cards based on wavelength-selective switches (WSSs). The catch here is that each ROADM card takes up two slots. So, while the Z77 can act as a seven-degree ROADM -- that is, one that steers wavelengths in any of seven directions -- such a configuration eats up the entire chassis. (A single-slot ROADM card is on the roadmap.)

The Z33 can only be a two-direction ROADM. Unlike the Z77, it doesn't yet support colorless and directionless switching -- referring to the ability to switch traffic to arbitrary ports using arbitrary wavelengths.

Topping off the package is the CyMS management system, which splits network layers into planes on a 3D diagram. Aside from looking cool, the pictures let operators see the dependencies among network layers. The software will indicate how a change in the Ethernet network would affect the optical network, for instance.

Of course, CyMS manages only Cyan's boxes, but it's still, arguably, a step up from what operators have today. "In most carrier networks, this information exists in the form of Excel spreadsheets," says Cyan's Wiener.

"That's neat, but I don't know if that's going to be something that would ultimately lead to a win," Perrin says of the 3D coolness.

As for those 20 customers, Cyan's press release today lists two: Buckeye TeleSystem Inc. and Great Plains Communications Inc.

Others, Wiener says, include a 14-city network in a midwestern U.S. state; a top 25 U.S. cable operator using Cyan for backhaul of cable modem termination systems (CMTSs); and a large enterprise that's leasing dark fiber to create 10-Gbit/s Ethernet connections between its data centers.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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