Open Networks, Open for Business

For the ICT industry, this nascent era of business models based on cloud computing and OTT content is characterized by a heady brew of innovation, change and growth. Open networking offers service providers a route to much-needed rapid service deployment, agile innovation, and leaner spending. For these reasons, the industry is pushing for open-source standards and transport equipment vendors are capitalizing on this new thinking. Migration is underway from traditional proprietary converged platforms to more modular/single use-case form-factors and functionality.

What is an Open Optical Network?

You might ask, what are the key features of an open optical network? Essentially it boils down to networks operating on an industry-agreed common, multivendor foundation. This includes the ability to have open software and open line systems that comply with open standards for interoperability. In sum, this means a mix-and-match multivendor network environment where all the parts “speak” a common language of control and data exchange.

Open Hardware

Optical networking hardware, such as Reconfigurable Add Drop Multiplexers (ROADMs) and transponders, is evolving in terms of form factor, functionality, and functional disaggregation. Equipment is changing from the large, converged platforms of the past decade to smaller units engineered for single use-cases; simplified network design and operation; efficient space utilization; and lower power consumption. Other essential features of open hardware are plug-and-play or self-installing components; automated provisioning; and software features and interfaces that enable easy integration and meaningful data exchange with different management systems.

Open Software

A notable aspect of open networking is the decoupling of software from hardware development and the transition from proprietary, embedded software to open-source code. Open software should include a single provisioning model with both service activation and service assurance, in addition to a centralized service rollout model. Open software management systems must also be capable of managing third-party systems or tools, and compliant with new standards or initiatives. The network elements must also support open APIs, enabling open management.

Benefits

Perhaps the most obvious benefit from open networking is that service providers are no longer locked in to a specific vendor’s hardware or controller software. When service providers can freely combine equipment from multiple vendors, they have freedom of choice that can directly reduce costs, and when an entire network is managed via common open interfaces and protocols, networks get tested, validated and deployed faster. Moreover, if every part of the network, figuratively speaking, shares a common language, it is easier to eliminate overbuilds or stranded bandwidth. Thus, open networking not only gives providers greater freedom of choice and speed of execution, it helps them to make the fullest use of existing resources. Ultimately, in business terms, this can result in faster service roll-outs.

Another benefit of open networking is that it will ultimately provide a shared technological framework to support innovation. The standards being implemented in the communications network industry are common across the entire IT industry, meaning that service providers have an open invitation to an innovation ecosystem.

Challenges

The primary challenge is successfully navigating the transition from traditional telecom standards to newer open-source standards—not least because the standards themselves are still evolving. “Openness” is not a binary state and the industry must tackle hardware and software components possessing various degrees of openness and interoperability.

On the hardware side, we see everything from closed-and-proprietary paradigms all the way to plug-and-play installation, functional disaggregation, and ultimately, interoperability. Likewise on the software side, we see a similar spectrum, from closed-and-proprietary to open standards, open software platforms, open APIs and ultimately, open applications. Several non-proprietary initiatives are driving open networking forward, including OpenDaylight, ONOS/CORD, ONAP, OpenStack, and the Open ROADM MSA, to name a few.

Conclusions

Open networking is signaling the desire for equipment with a narrower use case and simpler feature sets that enables low-cost and simpler operations. Flexibility, scalability and simplicity are the keys to realizing the potential of the open network.

Open networking supports ecosystem-based innovation and multi-sourcing, which boost cost, competition and supply reliability, while avoiding vendor lock-in and reducing burdensome complexity. Scalable, modular equipment reduces first cost and adds flexible pay-as-you go bandwidth growth, benefiting service providers by broadening their range of capital spending options and timelines. Open networking makes operations simpler and improves service creation and activation times, overall helping to “crack the tough nut” of reducing operational and ongoing costs.

About Jeff Babbitt

As one of our elite cadre of solution architects, Jeff has adeptly wire-walked the cutting edge of communications network technology for 20 years. He is deeply committed to sharing knowledge through forward-thinking product planning and management, in combination with his technical marketing skills. Jeff is also a respected expert author with almost 20 published papers to his credit covering topics such as revenue management, QoS, availability and core switching.