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Oh how quickly the world has changed. The Executive Forum program run by the OSA launched the OFC conference Monday, confirming not only how far optical networking has come lately, but also what is making the data center an engine of growth and innovation.

What a difference a few years makes

Just a few years ago (~2008) we started talking about coherent transmission of 40G. Now 100G is commonplace, and 200G/400G leads the discussion. Meanwhile, Internet content providers (ICPs) such as Google and Facebook have emerged as strong optical industry players while traditional communication service providers (CSPs) must now compete for mindshare.

Keynote speaker Jeff Cox, senior director of network architecture at Microsoft, kicked off the conference discussing how optical requirements for hyperscale ICPs are fundamentally different than those for CSPs: ICPs require shorter life cycles, fewer features at the system level, and systems optimized for cost. Microsoft is promoting a concept called Open Line System (OLS) intended to simplify long-haul and metro optical systems, reduce cost, space, and power, and drive interoperability.

While data center requirements for optical interconnect are notably different for ICPs than for traditional CSPs, the desire for interoperability is not: in this case, ICPs on the panels representing Microsoft, Facebook, and Google are in agreement with their CSP brethren.

But James Feger, VP of network strategy and deployment at CenturyLink, highlighted one big difference: change happens very slowly at CSPs. They have enormous workforces and sometimes entrenched processes. At least for traditional parts of the CSP network, equipment must meet high expectations, which slows adoption of new technologies and architectures.

The challenge for the optical industry used to be finding the middle ground that promotes an open ecosystem while still providing the features and functions that the industry needs. It is now apparent that the ICPs – which account for much of the industry’s capex growth – are going their own way.



Ron Kline, Principal Analyst, Intelligent Networks

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