Facebook, TIP Splash Some Open Sauce on Optical Networking

The transport sector is now home to the Open Packet DWDM initiative and Voyager, a white box transponder and routing solution.

November 1, 2016

5 Min Read
Facebook, TIP Splash Some Open Sauce on Optical Networking

Facebook has unveiled an open source approach to dense wave division multiplexing called Open Packet DWDM that unbundles packet optical hardware and software. The new technology is being contributed to the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and is also the basis of a new transponder platform called Voyager that Facebook is calling the first white box transponder and routing solution.

This development is likely to create some ripple effects within the packet-optical community, as it takes an open approach to DWDM transport in an effort to create new efficiencies. And it pushes the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) further into the spotlight only months after its creation as a major new force in the open source realm.

"The biggest high level take-away is how quickly the TIP project has moved since inception," comments Sterling Perrin, senior analyst with Heavy Reading. "This was announced in February with lofty goals but little detail. By Light Reading’s BCE event in May, they had already defined and built out a bunch of working groups -- so that was the first indication that this could be a pretty serious effort. And now in November, there is already a packet DWDM product that is being trialed: Voyager. That's incredible progress. The tier 1 operator support they’ve garnered is the other big indicator of how serious TIP is for the telecom industry. There are big name network operators behind TIP, including Telefonica, Tata, SKT, Bell Canada, etc."

Voyager is intended to have the impact on optical network that Facebook's Wedge 100 top-of-rack switch had on data center infrastructure: In fact, it also uses the Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) Tomahawk switch ASIC, as Wedge 100 did. Other key technology collaborators, according to Facebook, are Acacia Communications Inc. , Lumentum Holdings Inc. , Celestica Inc. (NYSE, Toronto: CLS) and Snaproute.

While DWDM represented a big move forward in enabling fiber networks to increase capacity, "the pace of innovation has slowed over the past ten years as we approach the limits of spectral efficiency," according to a Facebook blog posted today, co-authored by three top Facebook technologists, Ilya Lyubomirsky, Brian Taylor and Hans-Juergen Schmidtke.

Want to know more about telecom data center strategies? Check out our dedicated data center content channel here on Light Reading.

Adopting an open approach creates opportunities to drive greater efficiencies in DWDM transport, they state. At the outset, the Voyager is an open one-rack unit DWDM device that has eight 100 Gbit/s quad small form-factor clients and four 200Gbit/s 16QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) on the line side. It is intended to support both metro data center interconnect and long-haul deployments.

"By unbundling the hardware and software in existing 'black box' systems, which include transponders, filters, line systems, and control and management software, we can advance each component independently and deliver even more bandwidth with greater cost efficiency," the blog states.

Figure 1: First Voyager - Literally a White Box

Analyst Perrin notes that Voyager comes into what is already a very competitive market space.

"From what was released, it looks like a purpose-built, small form factor DCI box -- similar to what has been announced by a host of metro WDM vendors over the past year or more," he says. "Comparing Voyager to what's been announced by other vendors, it’s not the best in the industry but it’s certainly well in the mix. The question is: how do all the metro DCI vendors respond to an open source entrant? It’s already a brutally competitive space. And now an operator-led initiative is aiming to drive prices down more. It will be interesting to watch vendor reactions to this one."

Facebook worked with partners in the TIP Open Optical Packet Transport project group to develop Voyager and Open Packet DWDM, developing a packet transponder and open line transport system with open optical specifications. That work is now carried on by the TIP project group, where it is available for other interested parties to use and also, in open source fashion, to provide contributions. It also partnered with industry players on Voyager, specifically with regards to the testing and development of an ecosystem to support it, and will be releasing Voyager software into open source.

Facebook identified Equinix Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX) and MTN in South Africa as the two field trial sites. And ADVA Optical Networking , which was the first optical transport company to join TIP's Open Optical Packet Transport project, has already announced commercial support for Voyager: The vendor plans to sell the new solution and provide network management, operations support and maintenance. (See Equinix Hosts Facebook Voyager Trials for TIP and ADVA Touts Support for Facebook's Voyager.)

In the company's official news announcement, ADVA CTO and COO Christoph Glingener called the new developments "a game changer that will open up networks to a whole new range of customers."

According to Equinix, preliminary results of Voyager in its data centers "showed zero packet loss and significant overall cost savings due to this disaggregated hardware and software networking model."

Open Packet DWDM and Voyager are just two of the announcements being made today at the TIP Summit at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Among the other notable developments:

  • Membership expansion: New members includes Bell Canada, du (EITC), NBN, Telia, Telstra, Accenture, Canonical and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Total membership for TIP, launched less than a year ago at Mobile World Congress, now exceeds 300.

  • People and Process project group launch: The group, to be co-chaired by Facebook and Bell Canada, will focus on "developing and sharing cultural and process transformation best practices that can materially improve operators' key metrics."

  • Open sourcing by Facebook of all files for OpenCellular: The files in question include "schematic, layout, CAD files, specs and protocol as part of the TIP Access," according to Facebook. The OpenCellular project group is intended to help accelerate creation of an open, new wireless ecosystem.

More information about what TIP and Facebook are up to will be available today on the TIP website and on the Facebook engineering blog.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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