OFC 2014 next week will find MRV Communications expanding its packet optical vision, yet arguably still in a battle for relevance in a changing optical sector.
The vendor is almost two years removed from a period of upheaval that saw MRV change out several executives and board members, while considering selling out of the optical networking sector before reversing course, committing to packet optical, and deciding to sell other assets instead (See MRV Takes Packet-Optical Path and MRV to Sell Assets.)
"The company is much more focused now," says Scott Wilkinson, senior director of technical marketing at MRV. Dave Stehlin, an optical sector veteran who had been president of MRV's optical communications systems division, was promoted to CEO to steer the company toward the packet optical horizon, and last year, MRV launched its OptiDriver optical networking line for datacenter, cloud, and content providers, initially with a 10G system. Earlier this month, MRV unveiled a 100G muxponder to address varying bandwidth needs beyond 10G, as well as a new ROADM (See MRV Announces OptiDriver Platform.)
At OFC 2014, MRV will showcase the OptiDriver line, including the latest additions, but Wilkinson tells Light Reading the vendor also will announce a new HTML5 version of its ProVision service orchestration software for provisioning optical and Carrier Ethernet. Wilkinson says a Tier 1 carrier advised the company to completely make over what was previously Java-based software. The revamp was also inspired by the intelligence inherent in the OptiDriver line, as well as MRV's future product plans to expand into integrated packet optical solutions, Layer 3 switching and application awareness.
"We needed a more powerful platform to support these things," he says. "We're talking to bigger carriers now with bigger requirements. That Tier 1 was guiding us toward a more Tier 1-grade product."
Also at OFC 2014, MRV will talk about how it is getting more deeply involved in the standards fray by joining both the Open Network Foundation and European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) 's network functions virtualization (NFV) Industry Specifications Group. Wilkinson says the company is well prepared for the imminent revolution in networking because it already uses a Linux-based operating system called MasterOS for its switching line.
"We're looking at separating the control plane from our switching to do a lot of other things," he says. "So, for example, our operating system itself could be a switch in a server between virtual machines."
These moves show that MRV, like many other vendors, is positioning itself for a future defined by software and virtualization. Yet, despite MRV's attempts to put organizational and strategic turbulence behind it, the small company still faces an uphill battle in the packet optical sector against a legion of giants. Heavy Reading analyst Sterling Perrin says the company has lost momentum that will be difficult to regain.
"They are making moves to increase relevance in optics, including adding 100G and joining relevant standards groups, but none of this could be considered pioneering activity," Perrin says. "They are a very small player in a very crowded and competitive market, and a comeback will be a huge challenge. I don't see how it will be done."
Wilkinson acknowledges the challenge, but says MRV is playing a different ballgame from the larger vendors in the sector, and that customer reception to its recent moves has been positive.
"The Cienas and Alcatel-Lucents of the world are pursuing a different, broader tier of product," he says. "We talk to carriers specifically about metro and edge point-to-point packet optical transport needs, but even those customers are starting to want more, and we're following them up the food chain."
Still, with newcomer Coriant reintroducing the optical sector to the concept of consolidation in the last year or so, it's fair to wonder if a small firm like MRV can continue to remain independent and win its share of a rapidly changing market. For MRV's part, it declined comment on whether or not it could eventually revisit the notion of selling its optical assets.
— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading