The fall of the optical networking oligarchy

No, the title of this article is not trying to establish some sort of vaguely disturbing Internet resonance with the current troubles in Crimea. Instead, it is a direct reference to the fact that large, traditional metro optical vendors have suddenly found that their complex – and expensive – proprietary data centre solutions are now becalmed in an evolutionary cul-de-sac.

Why? Because a forward-looking faction of the previously stunted and slow-moving world of optical networking has gone to the gym and received a complete makeover for the modern world of next-generation data centres and cloud services.

First, six vendors and one innovative service and data centre provider joined forces as founding members of the new Open Source Optical Forum (announced at the March 2014 OFC event in San Francisco).

Chartered with promoting the adoption of standards-based, interchangeable, easy-to-use, and power-efficient optical networking technologies into next-generation data centres and cloud environments, OSO is providing open source device-ware code that is fully compatible with the OpenFlow 1.4 protocol from the Open Networking Foundation (ONF).

The ratified OpenFlow 1.4 release contains all the Vello-authored optical extensions previously lacking in OpenFlow. Now optical and Ethernet switches - and other devices, such as optical cross connects – running OSO software can be fully integrated in an OpenFlow environment and easily configured from a single interface. No more requirement for a resident optical high priest and six acolytes to install and maintain optical networking assets.

While the software disruption offered by OSO is a huge game changer in (and of) itself, there's also a new hardware chief in town – an entirely new class of optical switch that completes the dismantling of the status quo. And these new switches are not a year out. It's more like 90 days or so, from market thanks to a variety of OEMs. Completely based on off-the-shelf merchant optics, these are the world's first optical switches in an enterprise-friendly 1RU "pizza box" form factor, and they are coming to market with OSO software.

Think about that: four times the capacity per network element of existing solutions with half the power consumption and saving six to eight times of rack space on top of that - basically three racks of today's equipment reduced to less than half a rack. With plug-and-play multi-vendor interoperability, automation and programmability, what's not to like, particularly as they are half to a quarter of the cost of existing legacy chassis-based switches? The architecture of these new DWDM switches is fully extensible from 10Gbps to 100Gbps and all the way up to 1Tbps – now that really is investment protection.

All of this comes at the perfect time to help solve the bandwidth crisis inherent in the growth of cloud services, where demand for optical connectivity is off the charts as data centres require increased performance, reliability, and geographic connectivity.

Vello's Connectivity Exchange software and applications can use white-box Ethernet switches and these new OSO-powered merchant-optical switches to provide optical router bypass, application-based routing and virtual cross connect capabilities. Taken together, these developments have the capacity to disrupt the business models of a different class of legacy equipment vendors.

Jeff Paine is the VP of marketing at Vello.