Networking has long relied on proprietary architecture, particularly on the transport layer. The thinking behind this is that while single-vendor solutions tend to be more expensive, they are also more reliable and easier to manage than a collection of interoperable boxes.

But this attitude is quickly coming to an end as new technologies and new data networking requirements fuel demand for open and disaggregated solutions.

In part, this trend is influenced by the advent of open, composable platforms elsewhere in the data chain. In the data center, for example, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure is expected to lower costs and simplify operations of increasingly complex data environments. Even traditional server and storage environments, which have long been plagued by discrete, largely non-interoperable platforms, are becoming integrated under virtualized, software-driven architectures.

Composable networks

On the network, open and disaggregated solutions are expected to unleash a new wave of white box peripherals that providers will mix and match best-in-class solutions to support a wide range of general and specialized data requirements. In large part, this will be due to the fact that vendors will no longer have to invest the time and money to create full-stack networking solutions and then compete against heavily entrenched interests. Instead, they will concentrate on specific components and niche products that enable key services. Ultimately, this should hasten the pace of innovation and break the pattern of vendor lock-in that limits choice and drives up costs.

A key initiative in this drive is the Open and Disaggregated Transport Network (ODTN) project by the Open Networking Foundation. The basic idea is to create a common transponder format so that operators are no long required to use matching transponders from a single vendor, and can even pair these on an open line system by a third vendor. Using an open network operating system (ONOS) SDN controller, ODTN will be able to automatically discover all disaggregated components on the network, providing a truly vendor-neutral management framework through industry-standard solutions like Transport API (T-API) and OpenConfig.

At the moment, the project is focused on simple point-to-point open line systems, but eventually it will gravitate toward complex multipoint and even optical mesh architectures.

It’s hard to imagine open, disaggregated networking without an SDN controller to mask the discrepancies of individual vendor solutions, but as ADVA’s Ulrich Kohn notes, there is still some work to be done before a fully interoperable solution can emerge. For one thing, while multiple open communities like ONF and IETF are working on SDN interface specifications, existing protocols like T-API still need an effective means to incorporate analog optical transmission links. As well, protocol interoperability must still be verified between various vendor domains, multi-domain controllers, operational support systems and even customer portals. So the ideal of a plug-n-play network environment is still a ways off.

Another issue is reach planning, which still requires a normalized set of analog parameters in order to carry across multi-vendor optical transport systems. And real-time path design must have an accurate data system to verify modulation techniques, launch power, fiber characteristics and other parameters. Under the EU’s SENDATE project, vendors like ADVA, Coriant and VPIphotonics are trialing numerous solutions to address these and other issues.

Tomorrow’s network today

In the meantime, ADVA continues to push the envelope in open, flexible networking solutions like the TeraFlex™. Not only does it feature an open design with programmable management interfaces that support SDN environments, it now scales to 600Gbit/s transport with automated line rate and modulation adjustment. This gives providers unprecedented flexibility when configuring network architectures, while at the same time enabling advanced telemetry to ensure broad visibility into disaggregated networks that in turn support automated control over line and baud rates, signal quality, cost optimization and other parameters.

The complexity of the data environment is increasing exponentially these days. To keep pace, the enterprise needs unfettered access to the latest networking solutions, and this can only be accomplished by shedding the proprietary, single-vendor mindset.

With open, disaggregated architectures, providers can finally define their networks according to what the market requires, not what their vendor offers.