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.

Times, they are a-Changin’ (and the Pace is a-Heatin’ Up)

Three decades is a long time to be in the same industry, even one as historically slow-moving as telecommunications. It’s certainly long enough to become familiar with the typical rate of change. Looking back over my thirty-year telecom tenure, it’s clear that bigger changes are happening at an accelerating pace.

A quick look at how long it takes people to pick up new technologies is enough to prove this observation. By considering technologies that have come to dominate our lives over the past 100 years and examining how long it took each to reach 50 million users, we discover a few interesting things.

Let’s start with the technology that started the communication-at-a-distance revolution: the ubiquitous telephone. It took 75 years for Bell to attract 50 million subscribers after rolling out the telephone in 1876. Then, from the first TV broadcast in 1929, it took a relatively short 33 years to garner 50 million viewers. The World-Wide Web took only four years, starting in 1991, to reach this milestone. More recently Angry Birds, as mentioned elsewhere on this site by Rhonda Holloway, hit the market in 2009 and it took just 35 days for 50 million users to catch on.

With adoption time frames collapsing from almost a century to a little over a month, clearly the pace of adoption is accelerating. But astute readers will point out that I’m not exactly making fair comparisons regarding technology deployments. The first two (the telephone and television) depend on infrastructure deployments that require huge investments of expertise, construction, equipment and time. The second two (the WWW and Angry Birds) are “just software,” which, without seeming disingenuous, is much easier and faster to deploy.

And that is indeed the case; software is in general easier to deploy and the future of networking is not hardware; it’s software. To manage the hyper-connected, always-on, high-bandwidth demands of the Internet of Everything, networks will be forced to evolve in ways that are unimaginable if we keep thinking about operating them in the same hardware-oriented way we always have. The network must become a programmable entity and evolve beyond mere physical infrastructure.

Are your network and your operations capabilities prepared for Angry Birds deployment speed? My next few posts will explain how you can achieve a programmable network, leverage new hardware and software technology advancements and ultimately, implement the disaggregated network of the future.

How Disaggregation is Paving our Path Forward

Abstract background from metallic cubes

The optical networking industry is on the edge of revolutionary change, and while it may sound trite to talk about “the network of the future,” this is what’s approaching in a very real and immediate sense.

Two long-term market trends—industry consolidation and the convergence of IT and networking—have propelled the industry to its first major inflection point in decades. Two technological trends—the software revolution and the disaggregation phenomenon— are taking us forward.

Of these trends, disaggregation is the key to open, agile, plug-and-play networking as we will know it in five years’ time. This is because before we can progress, we have to separate the individual functions and capabilities that comprise today’s tightly integrated hardware systems. Disaggregation is, therefore, not just the latest buzzword. It’s a prerequisite that must be met before we can form an ecosystem of new industry partnerships, and collaborate to rebuild and improve those componentized functions—and add the automation and intelligence that the market’s clamoring to buy.

Fujitsu is shifting the architectural design of its optical networking platforms away from complex, vertically integrated hardware-based structures into a disaggregated architecture. This change will give rise to re-aggregation in the form of economical, generic hardware elements, open-standards software frameworks, and interoperable functional modules. We call this “componentization.”

Once disaggregation has happened, we can drive fast implementation times, simpler development cycles, lower costs, and an overall climate of unprecedented innovation, collaboration, and opportunity not just for the industry itself, but for our customers and their customers as well.

Innovation, collaboration and opportunity—the broad benefits resulting from the disaggregation journey—all grow best in an open, nonproprietary climate. They thrive when the overall environment is flexible, partnership-oriented and fast-paced. And while we’re aware of and prepared for the inevitable transition period of backwards compatibility, we’re committed to taking the first bold steps down the road to disaggregation in fall 2015. It’s an exciting time to be at Fujitsu, an exciting time to be in the optical networking business, and it’s going to get more and more interesting from here.