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Is Your Optical Network Ready for Open and Disaggregated?

portrait of Tim Doiron

February 25, 2021
By Tim Doiron
Sr. Director, Solution Marketing

Maybe – but geography matters

Infinera recently collaborated with Sterling Perrin, Principal Analyst – Optical Networking & Transport at Heavy Reading; the Telecom Infra Project (TIP); and two other vendors to support the development and execution of a joint primary research project in open and disaggregated packet and optical networks.  While we collaborated on the development of the survey questions, Heavy Reading independently executed the research and synthesized the results.  On January 26, 2021 we joined Sterling, Telefónica, MTN Group (South Africa), and others for 90-minute webinar, The Outlook for Open and Disaggregated Packet and Optical Networks,” to discuss the topic and some of the research findings.  If you missed the webinar, you can watch the replay here.  

The final research report is now available and provides some very interesting reading. While I encourage you to read the report, if you are short on time or have a short attention span like me, below is a simple explainer video, and my top findings – particularly in the open optical networking area.   

Unlock the Network, Go Faster 

Understanding service provider motivations is really a way of stepping into the customer’s shoes and walking with them on their journey.  Given the lack of travel and dinner conversations for the past 12 months due to the pandemic, I am always looking for ways to gain additional insights into service provider perceptions and experiences.  In the case of open optical networking, service providers want more vendor choice, lower costs, and faster optical engine innovation cycles.  I have heard similar comments anecdotally from service providers, but Sterling’s research further confirms that these are the top three service provider motivations for open optical networking. 

Is-Your-Optical-Network-Ready-for-Open-and-DisaggregatedFigure 1:  Benefits of multi-vendor open optical networking 

Stop Holding Me Back! 

So, if service providers are motivated, what is holding them back?  The top barrier to open optical networking adoption is the operational complexity of dealing with multiple vendors. Right behind it is lack of standards and immaturity of the standards that do exist.  These results are key reasons why you see so much industry effort going into standardizing data models, protocols, and application programming interfaces (APIs).  Participation in organizations like OpenConfigOpen ROADM, and TIP is becoming increasingly common as a place for vendors and service providers to debate approaches and collaborate to overcome these challenges.   

Is-Your-Optical-Network-Ready-for-Open-and-DisaggregatedFigure 2:  Barriers to multi-vendor open optical networking 

More Software Automation Please 

Another capability that may be holding service providers back is underinvestment in software automation and SDN controller deployments.  In fact, SDN control and management was the fourth most cited barrier in Figure #2, but there is a significant difference if you break this down regionally.  As reflected in Figure 3, fully 78% of North American respondents indicate that they will have SDN controllers deployed across their IP/Ethernet and optical networks by the end of 2021.  However, looking outside of North America, only 44% of respondents will have deployed SDN controllers in the same timeframe. In fact, the peak deployment year is not 2021 but looks like 2022 for non-North American networks – which translates into additional risk in terms of meeting this deployment timeline.   

Is-Your-Optical-Network-Ready-for-Open-and-DisaggregatedFigure 3:  SDN controller deployment by NA and non-NA region 

Rubber Meet the Road 

So, where does the rubber meet the road as it relates to service provider intentions to deploy open optical networks? It turns out that there is a vast difference between North American and non-North American attitudes.  North American service providers are embracing open optical networking at a significantly higher rate than their non-North American counterparts.  At the end of 2021, the majority (54% from the report) of North American respondents anticipated deploying multi-vendor open optical networks, while only 30% of their non-North American counterparts agreed.  This difference in attitudes continues throughout the scope of the research, with 78% of North American respondents anticipating deploying open optical solutions by the end of 2022, while less than half of non-North American respondents anticipated such deployments.  While additional study is required, it is quite possible that insufficient SDN controller and software automation investments are having an outsized influence on non-North American attitudes about deploying open optical networking. Initiatives such as TIP-MUST (Mandatory Use Case Requirements for SDN for Transport), a sub-group recently created by leading operators in the Open Optical & Packet Transport (OOPT) group within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which aims to accelerate the adoption of transport SDN solutionsmay help unblock the required automation investments Without such network evolution, service providers will fail to get beyond the #1 perceived barrier to deployment – which is operational complexity.  

Is-Your-Optical-Network-Ready-for-Open-and-DisaggregatedFigure 4:  Deployment timeline for open optical networking 

By not getting to an open optical architecture, these service providers will not benefit from reduced vendor lock-infaster innovation cycles and more choice.  In short, they will either delay or miss the chance to insert next-generation optical engines into their networks.  By not taking advantage of this opportunity, they will miss out on key benefits like improved transmission performance and enhanced network economics with each successive cycle.  The result will be reduced networking competitiveness.  

If you would like to discuss open optical networking or other networking topicsplease reach out to me at  am happy to connect and discuss.  

Stay safe everyone.