ODSI collaboration targets next-generation public networks

By Robert Pease

Telecommunications-equipment vendors and service providers joined forces in a large-scale effort to define a practical framework for interoperability between electrical- and optical-network service domains. Fifty companies formed the Optical Domain Service Interconnect (ODSI) coalition to enable service providers and their customers to deploy networks that can handle the explosive growth of data traffic over the public network.

Taking the lead in the formation of the ODSI, Sycamore Networks (Chelmsford, MA), a manufacturer of products geared for the intelligent optical network, says the coalition will drive open protocol development and interoperability testing between the optical domain and higher-layer service domains and protocols. According to Scott Larson, director of marketing at Sycamore, the ODSI coalition came together to keep pace with market demand by collaborating on a practical technical framework based on extensions to existing protocols and interfaces.

"The idea behind this informal group is to bring immediate momentum and focus to the issues of signaling and control at the electro-optical boundary and the means by which higher-layer service devices, such as IP [Internet-protocol] routers, can dial up bandwidth from the optical domain in a simpler fashion than is done today," says Larson. "We chose to establish an informal coalition and move quickly toward a framework that will enable initial interoperability testing later this year. Our ultimate goal is to make meaningful contributions to the development of standards in the form of a draft recommendation and published results from interoperable solutions testing."

With both the electrical and optical service domains undergoing dramatic innovation and change, the technical issues associated with the electro-optical boundary have become critically important-at least to the 50 companies. Sycamore began by first contacting colleagues who were working on products and solutions within the service cloud and the optical cloud, proposing its idea and potential goals in informal meetings and discussions. Inputs were also solicited from service providers currently in the process of building high-speed networks that combine electrical- and optical-service devices. Those initial meetings led to the development of an overview document that Sycamore began circulating to a broader group of companies.

"We sent it to anyone we believed might be interested," says Larson. "Momentum gradually built to the point where we were getting inquiries through the industry buzz."

Atmosphere Networks (Campbell, CA) was one of the first to jump on board in support of the ODSI. A manufacturer of products for optical access networks that combine Synchronous Optical Network/Synchronous Digital Hierarchy with Asynchronous Transfer Mode, Atmosphere was quick to embrace the idea of promoting multivendor environments to create services and felt its own practical experience could be applied beneficially to the group. The company also saw some distinct advantages to be gained through ODSI membership.

"The past demonstrates similar kinds of initiatives to develop common standards," says Alex Dobrushin, vice president of marketing at Atmosphere, "and interoperability creates strong market growth. As a provider of the on-ramps to the optical network, Atmosphere can tap into the exponential growth of this very hot optical market space."

The ODSI has gained a substantial following from new companies, many with less than two years in the industry. Sycamore was founded in 1998 and Atmosphere only one year prior. Appian Communications Inc., a startup manufacturer of optical products for the edge of the network, was founded in Boxborough, MA, this past January. Founder and vice president, Anand Parikh, believes benefits of the ODSI are important, regardless of how long a company has been in the market.

"Regardless of whether you are a startup or a larger legacy company, there is benefit to membership in organizations such as ODSI," says Parikh. "One of the things all of the ODSI member-companies recognizes is the tremendous advantage there is in banding together for the greater good of our customers. The communications industry is built on open interfaces. In the end, the beneficiary will be the end-user customer."

Still, startup companies may be particularly drawn to the ODSI because of their very nature as innovators. Parikh points out that new companies are typically founded by people steeped in the innovations of the Internet, mainly its openness and interoperability.

"ODSI is particularly attractive to new companies such as Appian because it provides an opportunity to help shape new interoperability standards based on leading-edge, innovative technologies," says Parikh. "Optical technology represents a major paradigm shift, just like the Internet. ODSI provides a platform to accelerate the realization of the benefits of the new paradigm that will create unprecedented flexibility and expediency in service creation for the end users."

Although there are some well-known companies involved with the ODSI, such as Siemens (Munich), Williams Communications Inc. (Tulsa), Enron Communications Inc. (Portland, OR) and others, several major industry players were obviously missing among the originally announced membership. Industry leaders such as Lucent Technologies, Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, and Alcatel have not been as quick to jump on the ODSI bandwagon as their younger competitors.

"We engaged the incumbent players, believing their interest level would be equal to that of the newer and smaller coalition participants," says Sycamore's Larson. "But rather than taking a public stance for or against the objectives of the coalition, there has been a 'wait, see, and evaluate' attitude, which is quite common when dealing with larger companies encumbered by multiple layers of decision makers. We certainly welcome and anticipate continued participation from these players and actually received significant representation and contribution from many of these companies at the kickoff meeting."

For now, though, it seems the newer and smaller companies are behind ODSI for lots of reasons. Pluris Inc., a three-year-old IP core-router manufacturer in Cupertino, CA, views the ODSI as a means to keep the company up to date on the technical features and standards the optical switch vendors are supporting in their equipment. Michelle McLean, director of strategic marketing at Pluris, also sees the importance of the feedback system within ODSI.

"The feedback from the telecommunications service providers within the ODSI will also ensure the rest of the group is focused on the appropriate feature set and tools for improving the usability of our equipment," says McLean. "My take on the high number of startups in the ODSI is that it's due to the fact that there's a ton of innovation right now in the optical market. If you were to look at the number of startups in networking, and the ratio that is focused on the optical core, I'm sure you'd find that ratio to be really high. The ODSI just reflects that."

IronBridge Networks (Lexington, MA) hopes to implement the ODSI interfaces into its carrier-class terabit Internet router products to enable them to communicate with optical switches manufactured by other companies.

"Customers will realize huge benefits from the convergence of optical networking and terabit electrical routing," says Doug Antaya, vice president of marketing for Ironbridge. "Our customers will be able to improve bandwidth utilization by up to 50%. By implementing and testing the interfaces jointly with these companies, we will make our products more valuable to our customers."

In Acton, MA, Tenor Networks manufactures optical service switches and the company says the ODSI forum represents principles that Tenor strongly believes in-mainly in light of its stand for open, compatible interfaces and protocols.

"This forum has the best interests of all parties in mind-the customer, the service provider, equipment, and software vendors-to advance the state of the market and the technology that supports it," says Sean Welch, Tenor's vice president of marketing. "In the end, everyone benefits from the open nature of such an important forum because it breaks down technical hurdles and fosters cooperation and agreement on issues that might otherwise become barriers to technical advancement."

The ODSI was officially announced this past January with a supporting cast of 50 companies with a common interest in interoperability within the service layer and optical domains. The coalition plans to remain an informal collaboration focused on promoting its efforts to the official standards group as progress is made.

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