I recently gave a lecture at Georgia Tech to a group of graduate students. After the lecture, I had a student approach me and ask, “I am really interested in telecommunications. What areas should I study?” My answer was “Either the fundamentals of high speed optics … or software. Software is where the networks are moving.”
That sentiment was certainly evident at OFC this year, with several major themes surrounding the concept of software-controlled optical networks. As transport SDN moves from demonstrations towards real deployment, network operators are demanding solutions that are more flexible and more open. Even the Chinese operators, who have typically used electrical cross-connects and fixed optical add/drop filters, are making a move to flexible, ROADM-based, meshed networks that can be driven via software.
In a Market Watch presentation at OFC this year, Needham & Company presented “metro core” as one of their three major drivers of the optical market (the other two being China and data communications). By “metro core”, they meant the move from a static, 10Gbps metro core network to a dynamic, coherent, meshed metro enabled by ROADMs everywhere. And those networks need software to make them work.
As described presciently by an ECI White Paper, programmable optical networks enable IP networks to be more efficient and reactive. As networks migrate to more data-centric network with intelligence at the packet layer enabled by SDN, the optical layers underneath also need to get smarter. Only when the two layers work intelligently together can the full benefits of a software-defined network be realized.
As reported by Light Reading, Verizon spent a significant amount of time during the newly formed ON2020 public workshop talking about the need for optical orchestration software to help them to optimize their increasingly complex network. Orchestration of a software-defined optical network has the potential to greatly improved the network efficiency, improving overall usability and lowering both capital outlay required for additional protection capacity and operational expenses required to manage restoration.
Flexible optical technologies like ROADMs, tunable wavelengths, and the newly enabled tunable modulation format high-speed optics along with sub-wavelength grooming via OTN (which is included in the transport SDN model) are just the beginning. As vendors allow more flexibility in their products, expect software developers to come up with even more ways to use the network as a platform for new services and new capabilities.
In the future, it’s all about the software.