OFC 2014: SDN in the Optical Space

Some in the fiber world are showing symptoms of SDN fever, if the Optical Fiber Communication (OFC) conference happening now in San Francisco is any indication. Though the optical community’s approach to software defined networking is more cautious overall than the networking industry as a whole, several vendors are placing their bets on SDN.

MRV joins the ONF, focuses on SDN and NFV

Earlier today, MRV Communications announced its membership in the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), as well as its participation in the NFV Industry Specification Group of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ESTI). While at OFC, I met with MRV’s Zeev Draer, VP of Strategic Marketing, and Scott Wilkinson, marketing director, to take a look at MRV’s progress in the software defined and virtualization arena. During our discussion, Draer and Wilkinson gave me a sneak peek at an upcoming product that provides per-port programmability for carrier-grade optical networking.

Yesterday, MRV also unveiled its Pro-Vision 3.0 service delivery and provisioning software. MRV is positioning the software as a bridge to SDN and NFV, touting the intelligence and service orchestration capabilities that the software can bring service providers today. Among the benefits the vendor boasts is Pro-Vision 3.0’s ability to sample and report on application traffic at much less expense than Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) solutions, as Wilkinson and Draer explained. If the software works as advertised, this could provide carriers (and large enterprises whose cloud implementations force them to act as carriers) with a useful, affordable tool to monitor and maintain SLAs and application performance. This will be particularly important in networks undergoing dynamic reconfiguration by those applications.


Coriant, meanwhile, is using the cloud as a jumping-off point to SDN. The vendor today announced its Dynamic Optical Cloud end-to-end infrastructure solution. Dynamic Optical Cloud combines Coriant’s 7100 and hiT 7300 packet optical networking platforms with the vendor’s 8600 mobile edge router and several currently available applications, open orchestration tools, and controllers. In partnership with Juniper, Coriant is also demonstrating 100G wavelength connectivity, Coriant Director of Engineering R&D Stuart Benington told me. The partnership is a natural fit for both vendors, Benington said, not only because Juniper doesn’t have its own optical infrastructure business, but also because “we are widely deployed with Juniper, and many customers ask for us to be deployed with them.”

When the conversation turned more specifically to SDN, Benington said that in the carrier space, no one he’s met is calling it a buzzword. “It’s getting fairly accepted that it is a pretty significant shift in what the network is going to become. The open questions now are mainly related to timing and implementation, and one of the most important enablers of that timing is demonstrating specific financial returns,” he said. In other words, just as it is in the enterprise space, carriers need some sense of the practical value of SDN before they’ll make the commitment that takes it from buzzword to reality.

SDN: A caution from JDSU

Vendor confidence about concepts like SDN must always be served with a side of salt, since vendors selling products labeled as SDN (or even SDN-like) are partisan by definition and need to hype the demand in order to hype the product. Indeed, Paul Brooks, product line manager for High Speed Test Solutions at JDSU, observed that thinking of SDN as an overarching concept may be less productive than considering the specific value of individual technologies under the SDN umbrella. Silicon photonics and their role in optical interconnects, for example, will have real, practical benefits to the networks and data centers of the future.

What impact will SDN have on the optical networking community? The question appears even more open than that of SDN’s impact on the networking community and the enterprise itself. What is clear is that it has made an impression in some quarters, and SDN-focused development may in itself be a good sign for those who dream of programmable, flexible, highly dynamic software defined networks.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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