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Find the Perfect Automation Strategy for Your Optical Network

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portrait of Teresa Monteiro

September 16, 2021
By Teresa Monteiro
Director of Solutions, Software and Automation

The Stage Is Set, the Cast Is Ready…

I recently had the privilege of participating in a Lightwave webinar on Network Automation Strategies, hosted by Stephen Hardy. The roundtable discussion with representatives from two other network equipment vendors was very interesting, addressing the benefits of network automation, strategies for deploying it, and how to overcome the most common barriers to success.

Optical Automation: A Sure Bet

My focus during this webinar was on the automation of optical networks. That turned out to be a wise choice, as the results of a poll conducted on the event registration page identified optical networks as the aspect of network operations that most respondents were seeking to automate.

Many communication service providers (CSPs) start their automation journey with business support systems and service automation, only subsequently looking at automating the actual network layers. But it is now clear that the optical layer is not a set of dump pipes, carrying traffic in a very static manner: automating the optical layer helps you achieve your business goals and may even be crucial in supporting new service types.

It is interesting to see how the four key optical market drivers are shaping service providers’ needs for optical network automation:

Key optical market driversFigure 1: Key optical market drivers


1. Relentless demand for capacity:

According to a current ACG research survey on open optical networks (report pending publication), service providers anticipate more than 40% annual traffic growth in the next five years, across all optical network segments.

As bandwidth grows and services become more distributed, traffic patterns will be more dynamic and the network will become harder to manage; there will be increasing pressure from end-customers for speedy service delivery. Manual network operation won’t keep up with network growth, and network automation will become the obvious choice.

2. Increasing market for coherent optics:

The last remnants of direct-detect interfaces, even at the edge, will be replaced by increasingly sophisticated coherent optical interfaces: 400G pluggables in the metro, reconfigurable point-to-multipoint architectures enabled by exciting new technologies like XR optics, and 800G transponders that offer hundreds of possible operating modes and a multitude of programmable parameters. These devices are also heavily instrumented, providing streaming telemetry data that reveals detailed information on the network.

To make the most of the latest optical innovation, best-in-class management and control systems support these devices in an intelligent manner, using analytics, optimizing the use of resources, and helping operators maximize investment.

3. Shift to open optical networks:

CSPs are shifting to open optical networking, disaggregating their transponders from their optical line systems, looking at accelerating the innovation cycles within the network, breaking vendor lock-in, and improving their economics.
Although the multi-vendor network is disaggregated, it still needs end-to-end management. Software and automation solutions are good ways to “aggregate” the control of disaggregated systems.

4. IT tools and practices extending to networking:

Successful IT practices, such as the move to the cloud, the adoption of open-source software, and the increased use of scripting and workflow automation, have been imported by internet content providers (ICPs) into network operation. CSPs are now also ready to adopt them, with the help of an ecosystem of suitable automation applications.

But Where to Start?

A recent network automation survey highlighted that CSPs are prioritizing investment in the automation of those concrete, mundane tasks that are getting more and more complex in todays’ dynamic and open networks, such as network planning and service provisioning. The automation of these functions results in accelerated service delivery and, with it, faster time to revenue. By improving daily network operation, customer satisfaction also improves. Interestingly enough, both the survey mentioned in the previous paragraph and a poll conducted during this Lightwave webinar identified “increasing customer satisfaction” as the main driver for network automation, ahead of OpEx savings.

At Infinera, we recommend that CSPs take an incremental approach to automation, starting with simple automation applications, each new one building on the previous, while keeping a comprehensive automation vision in mind. We offer several cornerstone optical network automation applications that provide clear and immediate benefit to CSPs.

One valuable automation application supports network planning – specifically, real-time capacity planning and service activation. With this application, the user can plan and provision new services online with real-time visibility over the network. Simply select the endpoints and characteristics of the new service via the NMS GUI or the SDN controller portal, specify any routing constraints that may apply, and a digital service is routed in real time, with a new wavelength also planned if needed (including optical reach validation). If new equipment needs to be installed, a bill of material and commissioning reports are generated, and the service can be automatically provisioned upon installation. The result is faster service delivery and faster time to revenue – a significant improvement over the traditional use of experts-only offline planning tools.

Another compelling automation application offers unified control for an open optical network.
This application consolidates management and control of the open network, combining information from equipment from two or more vendors for the line system and transponders.

Unified control of open optical networksFigure 2: Unified control of open optical networks

It reconciles topology, connectivity, and services information and well as performance management and fault management data, offering end-to-end visualization, connectivity validation, automated service creation, and fault correlation. It enables simple, efficient, error-free open optical operation, removing barriers to open networking.

And How to Grow?

One other important topic that was discussed in the webinar was that of network automation architectures.

  • Standards bodies and industry organizations, such as TIP-MUST, Open ROADM MSA, and ONF/OIF, have been defining much-needed reference architectures for SDN control, typically based on domain controllers integrated under one network orchestrator. However, these blueprint architectures do not have to be followed religiously; each customer’s reality, in terms of the hardware and software deployed in its network, goals for automation, and project timelines, needs to be considered. This may lead to the adoption of “mixed” automation architectures that deviate from the textbook drawings.
  • There may be good reasons to centralize or distribute certain automation tasks: centralized control allows for network-wide optimization with a bird’s eye view of the network. However, issues of scalability, resilience to failure, and latency may impose a more distributed approach.
  • The type of unified open network control described above can be achieved with a hierarchical SDN control and orchestration environment. But alternatively, it can be achieved today, with a lightweight standalone software application, based on cloud-native technologies and leveraging the benefits of microservices and containers. Such standalone applications are easy and fast to deploy and upgrade, in any deployment environment, whether on premise or in the cloud).

The important aspect, however, is that any short-term automation choice is educated enough not to limit a longer-term, more ambitious, automation evolution. This is best ensured with automation applications that implement standards-based interfaces (e.g., ONF T-API northbound, and Open ROADM MSA and OpenConfig southbound), use cloud-native technologies supporting DevOps and continuous integration practices, and include software development kits (SDKs) to easily adapt the mediation to legacy networks.

When you have some free time, I encourage you to listen to the replay of the webinar.  In the meantime, please rest assured that no matter what your optical network goals are, “the stage is set, the cast is ready” – that is to say, the right technology and solutions for your network automation are here, ready to be embraced!