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Ciena Joins the Optical Encryption Club

With optical layer encryption set to be a hot network security topic in 2016, Ciena has unveiled its metro and long-haul solution, and already tried out its tech with Telstra.

January 26, 2016

4 Min Read
Ciena Joins the Optical Encryption Club

Ciena has joined the growing list of transport equipment vendors that have developed network security features that can protect "in-flight" data traffic on metro and long-haul optical connections.

According to the vendor, its WaveLogic Encryption technology can encrypt any traffic coming into a network, including Ethernet, Fibre Channel, OTN, IP, SONET and SDH, and transport it securely over 10GBit/s, 100Gbit/s and 200Gbit/s links with "virtually no added latency."

The key factor here is that the security functions can be provisioned and activated without the need to deploy any additional boxes, as the encryption capabilities are embedded in a Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN) WaveLogic 3 Extreme transponder card.

And the vendor's timing looks good. A recent Heavy Reading report, "The Lower the Better: Encrypting the Optical Layer," authored by Dan O'Shea, noted that optical layer encryption looks set to become a major talking point in 2016. (See Optical Encryption's Value Shouldn't Be a Secret.)

Among that report's key findings are that the current method of encrypting traffic at higher network layers is "costly, difficult to manage and has detrimental effects on bandwidth and latency," while "encrypting traffic at Layer 1 provides practical solutions" to such problems.

Although Ciena's new functionality is not yet generally available (that will happen this quarter), Ciena already has a carrier reference as WaveLogic Encryption has already been put through its paces by Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS). The Australian operator, working with Ciena and its partner Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), demonstrated the WaveLogic Encryption solution over a 200Gbit/s link on its Inter-capital Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney route.

The Telstra team regards this as a significant breakthrough and extolled the virtue of optical layer encryption, and Ciena's technology, in a blog by Andrew Leong, General Manager of Transport Engineering at Telstra Operations.

Telstra's Leong isn't the only one who's impressed.

"This is a big deal and part of the overall network security push that is happening across the whole communications infrastructure market," notes Heavy Reading senior analyst Sterling Perrin. "A handful of companies are offering optical layer encryption now... but this is something that any company in the data center interconnect market would need to be doing," adds Perrin.

There's no doubt that this is an important development, but the big question now is how much this will resonate with operators' real world plans, notes the analyst. "There are undoubtedly benefits to encrypting the optical layer, as it then secures everything that's running on top," he adds. But what happens when the traffic is handed off to local networks? Operators need to devise a security strategy that is end-to-end and that's something the optical equipment vendors can't offer by themselves. As a result, propositions such as WaveLogic Encryption really only start to come into play when network operators have figured out a full network strategy, notes Perrin.

Operators are certainly thinking about how to implement end-to-end encryption to meet the increasingly strict requirements of enterprise customers and Telstra's clearly some way down that path, but the majority are still figuring it out. "They also need to figure out how to fund it," adds the Heavy Reading man.

Ultimately, optical layer encryption is something that will become a standard feature from all the vendors, but "they may not be able to charge extra for it," he notes.

Need to know more about network security developments? Then check out our dedicated security content channel here on Light Reading.

Ciena joins the likes of ADVA Optical Networking , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), ECI Telecom Ltd. and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) (via the former Alcatel-Lucent optical group), while according to O'Shea's Heavy Reading report, Coriant and Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) are among the other vendors due to announce Layer 1 metro and/or long-haul encryption capabilities in 2016. (See ADVA Touts Encryption for 100G Metro Optical Networks and ECI Unveils Its SDN Framework.)

Ciena shores up its WaveLogic tech base
In a related development, Ciena has acquired high-speed photonics components (HSPC) assets from supplier TeraXion Inc. for about US$32 million. Those assets include high-speed indium phosphide and silicon photonics technologies (and related intellectual property) that are at the heart of Ciena's WaveLogic coherent chipsets.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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