Networks converge on optics

By Stephen Hardy


Networks, network layers, and companies should continue to conflate in 2010.

The major buzzword in 2009 was “convergence”—and there’s currently no reason to believe that the buzzing will subside substantially in 2010.

Convergence has taken several forms. There’s the desire to converge previously separate data, voice, video, and wireless backhaul networking into a unified infrastructure. IP and/or Ethernet packet-based transport has become the most popular path toward this goal.

Along these lines, IP/optical convergence (at speeds of 40 and 100 Gbps at the core) has emerged as a topic of discussion and technology innovation. Alcatel-Lucent unveiled its IP/optical convergence strategy in September, with the promise of new hardware and software capabilities to come. Ciena then one-upped its competitor by announcing upgrades to its CoreDirector and unveiling the 5400 family of reconfigurable switching systems, with the assertion that the company could deliver now what Alcatel-Lucent only promised.

Other optical transport vendors have stepped up as well. The common message: A proper convergence strategy minimizes the role of routers in transport, thus saving expensive router ports for more germane functions. The common implication: This vision differs from the IP over DWDM strategy Cisco and the new Nokia Siemens Networks/Juniper Networks partnership espouse. Cisco sources, shrugging their shoulders, say that minimizing the role of routers in transport has been fundamental to IP over DWDM all along.

Modular systems

But convergence will remain an evolutionary process in 2010, with each carrier dealing with a unique mix of legacy and next-generation services and infrastructure that they will migrate at their own pace. This, of course, has led to multiservice provisioning platforms and their more fully developed successors, the packet optical networking platforms.

A trend here that will continue through 2010 is an emphasis on modularity. Ciena, Cyan, and Hitachi Communications Technologies America all emphasized a building-block approach to their platform announcements, and the competitors will likely follow suit in 2010. An interesting trend to watch next year will be how many carriers follow Verizon’s lead in requesting such platforms for core networks. Certainly Ciena and Hitachi designed their products with such a trend in mind.

Modular companies

The other form of convergence that will continue in 2010 involves the carriers and vendors who serve them. In the carrier space, we can look for the roll-up of Tier 2 and 3 carriers to continue. Consolidation within the vendor community will continue as well, as the Nortel MEN divestiture (scheduled to close in the first quarter of 2010) and the reports that Motorola is thinking of selling off its Home & Networks Mobility unit illustrate.

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