Andrew Schmitt’s keynote presentation, entitled “Ways to Achieve Network Openness“, kicked off the 2017 Next Gen Optical Networking event in Nice, France on June 20th. The presentation, which highlights Cignal AI’s perspective on the various directions network operators can take as they deploy networks in the near term, was also given at a Huawei event prior to the show.

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Takeaways from the presentation include:

  • The optical equipment market is divided; there are several sub markets with very different technical requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and what works well for Microsoft will not work well for Verizon. Therefore, extrapolating the needs of one customer market onto other customers is a major mistake.
  • Optical spending growth from cloud and colo operators is tilting the playing field (and the conversation) toward their requirements. While still a relatively small share of global spending, cloud and colo is the growth market, and vendor investment follows growth.
  • Deployment models are not discrete choices, but are instead a spectrum of approaches ranging from sourcing from a single vendor (vertical integration) to utilizing open architectures (dis-aggregated hardware), all the way to designing one’s own hardware from scratch (whitebox).
  • The whitebox approach was successful in hyper-scale environments for servers and Ethernet switches because it solved critical needs not met by the commercial equipment market. In the WDM transport space, it isn’t clear what critical needs are not already being solved by the 8 different equipment vendors building equipment specifically for this application.
  • There is a vocal contingent within the industry advocating for whitebox hardware without acknowledging the complexity of most customers’ requirements. We call this “The Cult of Open.”
  • There are pros and cons to every deployment approach, and ultimately each vendor selects a deployment model best suited to its unique culture and requirements.
  • Equipment vendors will continue working towards providing access to their hardware via open software interfaces. Simultaneously, vendors must find proprietary approaches that differentiate their equipment in order to address the customers who wish to build vertically integrated networks from handpicked vendors.
  • The more rapidly that operator service and business models change, the more likely operators are to pursue open optical networks.