Cisco’s OFC 2015 Coup – More Opportunity in Transport than Just Packet-Optical

Rick Talbot
Rick Talbot

Summary Bullets:

• Optical networking vendors strive to understand the selections network operators make for next-generation optical infrastructure.

• Sometimes, these decisions can be based on more than the ultra-high-capacity optical network elements.

Much of the buzz going into last week’s OFC 2015 in Los Angeles was the opportunity provided by data center growth and, particularly, the opportunity for optical transport vendors to profit from the rapid growth of data center interconnection (DCI) traffic. However, once the show got started, Verizon captured the crowd’s attention by announcing its intent to modernize its metro optical network using scalable, packet-optimized transport solutions (including 100G flexible CDC ROADMs) from Ciena and Cisco. Ciena’s selection was somewhat expected, based on its prior 100G work with Verizon, but Cisco surprisingly usurped two incumbent metro optical vendors (Coriant and Fujitsu Network Communications) to land the second selection. The question at the conference was, “How did they do that?”

Any consideration of how a vendor would win an operator’s business should be based on the value that vendor could bring to the operator, and that value, in turn, is tied to the needs of the operator. Yes, Verizon can benefit from agile 100G (and higher) optical networking, but a focus strictly on that backbone portion of the network overlooks a much bigger challenge for an operator, particularly Verizon. This operator provides tens of thousands of T1 services, and it employs additional many more T1 lines to support a myriad of other legacy services. The challenge for Verizon is that it supports these T1-based connections with a legacy infrastructure (e.g., multi-service provisioning platforms – MSPPs) that has been largely bypassed in recent packet-based platforms. Verizon knows that the network will ultimately evolve to all-packet, but how does it continue to support its very significant base of legacy connections (T1s, T3s, OC-3s, etc.) while transitioning the network to all-packet? One practical solution (and perhaps a superior one) is to convert the legacy connections to packet flows with a process such as circuit emulation.

Circuit emulation has been employed in many networks over the past decade to packetize miscellaneous TDM connections (baseband, PDH and SONET/SDH) for transport in all-packet networks. However, these solutions have generally addressed the minority of a network’s connections; the process has usually been expensive and has typically not scaled well. Thus, even though circuit emulation performs the function needed by the incumbent wireline network operators (like Verizon’s wireline operations), it has proven impractical to employ in the massive scale required. However, if a network systems vendor could propose a solution that would support massive scale – cost-effectively and requiring minimal space and power – that vendor would be meeting a vital need of the operator, thereby positioning itself to win a considerable portion of the operator’s metro business. As it so happens, Cisco is quite experienced in the technology, and it claims that circuit emulation was included in its proposal to Verizon.

In the end, only Verizon knows the real reasons it selected Ciena and Cisco to supply its next-generation metro optical network. However, as vendors inevitably attempt to ascertain the likely reasons, they should not limit their evaluation to simply the “sexy” (for the optical transport industry) ultra-high-capacity optical network elements. The solution may lie in the much more mundane conversion of legacy connections into packets.

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