Video hardware

Polatis Takes the White House

As the United States picks the new denizen of the White House this week, there's one new face, figuratively, that's already set up office there.

It's a bit of a dark horse candidate, too. Polatis Inc. , one of the all-optical survivors of the dot-com bubble, is not only still in business, but is starting to encroach on the video world, an application that's led to its switches being installed in Washington.

Polatis's deployment for CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) television, happened very early this year. The presidential State of the Union address was the first live feed to use the all-optical switches. Now that CBS is confident everything works, Polatis got the OK to announce the deployment today. (See Polatis Goes to the White House.)

Longtime Light Readers might remember Polatis as one of the startups touting all-optical switching during the 1999 bubble. The idea was to put these enormous switches in the optical core to simplify the network, and companies like Nortel Networks Ltd. paid billions to get into this game. (See Nortel Spells Out Its Cross-Connect Strategy.)

That idea? Dead, Polatis says.

"I don't think you're ever going to see people going to a single 1,000-port optical switch," says Nick Parsons, Polatis's vice president of product development. "That's not a sensible thing, mainly because you've suddenly put a single point of failure in your network."

All-optical switching companies have instead stuck to smaller devices. Little 1x2 or 2x2 switches have plenty of small-scale uses. Larger switches can be used in labs (or in the field) to quickly connect test gear to different pieces of equipment. That's the kind of market Glimmerglass has been focused on in recent years. (See Swisscom Uses Glimmerglass.)

Another possibility is for an all-optical switch to work in conjunction with reconfigurable add-drop optical multiplexers (ROADMs), an avenue Polatis has pursued in the past. (See Polatis Plugs On With Optical Switches.)

Founded in 2000, Polatis has kept itself in business on these kinds of applications. Its deployments include a mobile backhaul network, where its switches are used for network monitoring, and some access networks in the United States.

It's not a huge business yet. Polatis is drawing more than $10 million per year in revenues, and it's not profitable yet.

The White House job, though, opens a new market for Polatis in the form of TV-video routing. As in test-lab applications, its switches are used to change connections without having to manually unplug and plug anything, a trait that sounds simple but turns out to be valuable in some cases.

CBS has several camera positions wired up in the White House -- think of each one as a socket with its own optical-to-electrical converter. Separately, CBS is using a variety of video routers that don't all adhere to the same high-definition formats -- meaning not every optical-to-electrical conversion is going to be right for every router.

CBS had been using a manual patch panel to keep all this straight, but that equipment was getting old, and the network was tired of having to always send someone out to manually reconfigure the connections. That problem, including the question of video formats, got handled by putting optical switches into place.

"The nice thing about all-optical switches is that you don't care about video format," Parsons says.

Polatis offers switches in sizes up to 32x32, and bigger versions are due to be launched next quarter. "Certainly by this time OFCnext year, we'll have something," Parsons says.

Polatis also got into the ROADM game this year by introducing a wavelength-selective switch (WSS), the switching component of a ROADM. That device is being tested by some OEM partners, Parsons says. (See Polatis Launches Low-Loss WSS.)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:28:10 PM
re: Polatis Takes the White House Eight years ago, this would have been a controversial statement: "I don't think you're ever going to see people going to a single 1,000-port optical switch."
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