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Optical interconnect DCI frameworks need more flexibility to keep pace

An optical interconnect framework can support high-speed DCI deployments. But it's important that optical networks become programmable to ensure reliability.

Optical networking -- and optical interconnect -- is joining the rest of the networking world in becoming more...

flexible and software-defined.

With blazing speeds and enormous capacities, optical networks are favored in superdense situations, such as carrier, hyperscale cloud service provider, large-enterprise data centers and especially for long-distance data center interconnect (DCI).  As optical gear evolves, and as enterprise use cases become denser and more demanding, optical interconnect technologies will continue to increase their footprints by underpinning storage networks and other operations.

Optical networking moves toward SDN

Yet, in order to fit into modern data center and enterprise networks, optical networks have to become more software-defined and programmable.

Yet, in order to fit into modern data center and enterprise networks, optical networks have to become more software-defined and programmable. Otherwise, an optical DCI -- an island of ultra-dense optical networking equipment -- will limit the speed in which changes to a network can be fully implemented. An optical interconnect framework also increases the likelihood it will be the source of network problems, because it requires manual intervention, which is the leading cause for misconfiguration errors.

Fortunately, vendors are bringing optical networks into the brave new programmable world. They are providing APIs, for example, or extending general software-defined networking (SDN) concepts of disaggregation to optical equipment. This encompasses applying the SDN model of separating the control plane from the data plane to optical gear, as well as extending OpenFlow -- for interplane communication -- to accommodate optical equipment and concepts. Finally, this approach fuels the development of open source controllers, which in turn lays the groundwork for managing virtual optical switch instances on a shared data plane infrastructure.

By providing for virtualization and programmability, optical gear manufacturers are paving the way for another major wave of change: multicarrier edge data centers. This technology uses software-reconfigurable optics, programmability and virtualization to enhance automation and multi-tenancy capabilities. Network or carrier-hotel operators can build a new generation of data centers that will serve as localized, distributed auxiliaries to the major data centers of cloud providers and enterprises.

Data center interconnect

Optical networks virtualized in IoT

New generations of the internet of things, augmented reality and virtual reality will demand real-time responsiveness. Even optical networks and optical interconnect technologies can't circumvent the laws of physics, and the speed of light in fiber determines how far away data processing can be and still achieve real-time response. A 62-mile round trip takes a full millisecond of time, and each millisecond spent in transit reduces the amount of time left for processing at the destination. By pushing some data storage and some data processing closer to users in the form of edge data centers, the IT infrastructure will be able to provide real-time event processing. At the same time, these shared edge data centers will require massive amounts of optical interconnect throughput, as data streams continue to grow.

Add the emergence of 5G, along with the push for greater automation in the network, and the need to drive optical networking to become more software-defined and more flexible becomes apparent.

This was last published in May 2018

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