Optical transport vendors prep for SDN

The Open Networking Foundation is still prepping its vision of how software-defined networking could apply to optical networks. But that hasn't stopped technology developers from offering their own takes.

The Open Networking Foundation is still prepping its vision of how software-defined networking could apply to optical networks. But that hasn't stopped technology developers from offering their own takes.

By STEPHEN HARDY

According to Infonetics Research, three-quarters of service providers indicate in a recent survey that they plan to deploy software-defined networking (SDN) technology in their networks at some point. That's at least one reason why the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) has created a working group tasked with helping to define how SDN might apply to the optical layer - and why just about every optical transport systems vendor has either articulated or is forming an SDN vision that involves its current and future systems.

However, that same study indicates that only one-third of the carrier survey respondents say such vendor strategies play a critical role in their hardware selection process. Which indicates that those still forming their strategies aren't too late - and those who have hope they're not too early.

Transport SDN

SDN architectures separate the network data plane from the control plane, which enables the creation of applications that can run across multiple classes of systems from multiple vendors. As discussed in the May/June 2014 issue of Lightwave (see "From embryonic to tectonic: SDN and the path toward industry transformation"), SDN promises to provide an unprecedented level of flexibility and speed for turning up new services and increasing network efficiency across multiple network layers. As the Infonetics survey illustrates, most carriers like the concept. The trick is how to pull it off.

As has been the case with other new ideas, carriers are looking to standards bodies - in this case, groups such as the ONF and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) - to drive consensus on the proper application of SDN and a related concept, network functions virtualization (NFV), to their networks. Also, as has usually been the case, industry is jumping ahead of the standards bodies, either to influence the standards process or to create a first-to-market advantage among early adopters.

The OpenDaylight Project is the most prominent industry-led SDN force. Several optical transport systems vendors have joined the group - but at least some of these members have positioned OpenDaylight's work as focused primarily on the IP/MPLS layer rather than the optical infrastructure layer. That opens the door for proprietary approaches to the optical layer while the ONF's optical working group completes its task.

These responses from optical equipment manufacturers have ranged from adding programmable capabilities to their hardware (MRV's OptiPacket is a recent example) to full-blown SDN suites, with Cyan's Blue Planet platform perhaps the most salient example of the latter.

Like the ONF and the data-center ecosystem where SDN got its start, the optical transport systems vendors have embraced OpenFlow as the foundation of their efforts (although Huawei suggests its Protocol Oblivious Forwarding might be an improvement). With the ONF circulating drafts of its optical transport approach, the bet among these vendors is that their use of OpenFlow will allow easy modifications - or software bridges to be built - that will bring their proprietary approaches into conformance by the time carriers make SDN a more important part of their equipment evaluation process.


STEPHEN HARDY is editorial director and associate publisher of Lightwave.

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