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Top Five Reasons Why Compact Modular Platforms are Redefining Optical Networking

portrait of Fady Masoud

October 29, 2019
By Fady Masoud
Director, Solutions Marketing

Over the past few years, the optical networking industry has witnessed the rise of a new breed of platforms that have constantly raised the bar on optical performance, operational flexibility, and automation. This new category of optical networking platforms, called “compact modular,” was initially designed for point-to-point data center interconnect (DCI) applications for internet content providers (ICPs).

Fueled by recent breakthroughs in the development of low-power and high-performance DSPs, compact modular platforms enable game-changing economics and a compelling value-add to all types of network operators beyond just ICPs, including communication service providers (CSP), cable operators/MSOs, research and education network operators, and many others in a wide variety of applications.

It’s clear that the compelling value proposition of compact modular platforms resonates with a lot of network operators, and this is reflected in the latest report from Cignal AI that highlights that compact modular platforms account for 30% of total North American optical hardware shipments in the first quarter of 2019, with an anticipated 28% CAGR worldwide between now and 2023.

Here are the top five reasons why compact modular platforms are redefining optical networking:

Reason #1 – Modular pay-as-you-grow architecture: Compact modular platforms have evolved from point-to-point Ethernet appliances to “sled”-based architectures, where each type of sled can support multi-service (Fibre Channel, 10G, Ethernet, etc.), Ethernet-only (10 GbE/40 GbE/100 GbE), or pure photonic functions like amplifiers, ROADMs, and OTDR, as depicted in Figure 1. The sled design allows network operators to eliminate the up-front cost of buying all the hardware on day one and the associated CapEx. Network operators can add capacity through sleds how they want, when they want, and they can scale horizontally by adding new sleds and vertically by adding new chassis in a pay-as-you-grow operational model.

Figure 1: Compact modular pay-as-you-grow architecture

Reason #2 – Mix-and-match modular flexibility: Combining the latest technology innovations, like the miniaturization of different functions into much smaller form factors and the ability to use different types of sleds (transponder/muxponder and photonic sleds), in the same chassis raises the bar on operational flexibility while reducing operating costs. Sleds can be used like Lego blocks to build any configuration (client aggregation, mix of client and photonic line, or photonic line) in a significantly more compact footprint, as depicted in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Compact modular platforms’ mix-and-match modular flexibility

Reason #3 – Low operating costs: As part of their category name, these platforms are highly compact at 1 to 2 rack units (RUs), and designed for a “rack-and-stack” approach – similar to data center equipment. In addition to the compact footprint, compact modular platforms are disruptive when it comes to power consumption. As a matter of fact, one of the drawbacks of monolithic platforms is the fact that power consumption is almost constant regardless of the level of capacity used.

Individual client/line cards contribute to the sum of all power consumption, but the lion’s share of power is typically consumed by numerous fans, redundant cross connects, shelf processors, communications/management cards, and so on. Compact modular platforms significantly reduce power consumption through the latest generation of DSPs with low power consumption, fewer fans, compact management/controllers, and a modular architecture with high-density sleds that allows network operators to only use the sleds they need. This has led to a dramatic reduction in power consumption, as depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Dramatic reduction in power consumption and footprint with compact modular platforms

Reason #4 – Open and programmable: Compact modular platforms are built around the principles of hardware disaggregation and open standards (e.g., OpenDaylight, OpenROADM, OpenConfig, etc.), which further facilitate multi-vendor interoperability and prevent vendor lock-in. Furthermore, SDN controllers and multi-layer, multi-domain, and multi-vendor orchestrators help network operators efficiently and easily manage disaggregated architectures consisting of compact modular platforms. Compact modular platforms are also highly programmable, with programmable baud rates, forward error corrections (0-27%), modulations, and many other parameters, to provide the most optimal spectral efficiency, lowest latency, and longest reach.

Reason #5 – Simplified turn-up and lifecycle management: With the goal of having traffic up and running in minutes, compact modular platforms were designed from the ground up to allow easy installation, quick service turn-up, and intuitive management. Some support zero-touch provisioning (ZTP), as many installation functions have been automated, including license activation, autotuneability on the first available wavelength in the optical spectrum, and so on.

Visit to learn more about how Infinera’s compact modular platforms can redefine your network economics and operations.