Networks are moving closer to a world in which the equipment that moves wavelengths can talk to the boxes that route packets, switch circuits and create services — even if it all comes from different vendors.
At SuperComm next month in Atlanta, 25 members of the Optical Internetworking Forum will demonstrate that their products can interact with one another. A live demo promises to show how the OIFs User Network Interface protocol enables carriers to add bandwidth so they can activate services for users quickly and boost profits.
If the protocol works as promised, companies that offer end-to-end products will have a harder time persuading customers that they need to stick with one brand. Niche players will get a boost by demonstrating that their boxes can meld elegantly with the boxes of much larger companies.
The demonstration grew out of a test conducted this month by the OIF at the University of New Hampshire. Its a crucial breakthrough because it means a carrier can provision extra bandwidth from, say, Chicago to New York in seconds rather than months. It also should dramatically lower provisioning and operating costs.
The enthusiastic participation in the OIF trials is acknowledgment that the industry might be five or more years away from having all-optical networks that need no electronic gear. "Last year, everyone was talking about the elimination of electrical devices," said Esmerelda Swartz, director of strategic marketing at Avici Systems, which will demonstrate interoperability in the networks core with competitors at SuperComm. "The industry finally understands how impractical that is today. You almost have to defy the laws of physics to do that today."
Most of the major vendors in the optical world and in the packet world will demonstrate interoperability. Avici and Ciena, for example, will show how Avicis terabit router can work with Cienas CoreDirector, a switch that can direct traffic at the wavelength and subwavelength levels.
"Its really being driven by customers interested in having better interaction between the two layers," Swartz said. "Customers like to pick best-of-breed in each section of the network."
The OIF has more than 300 members, including most of the large carriers, packet vendors, optical companies and chipmakers, said Adam Dunstan, OIFs president and vice president for technology at Avici.
"The goal is to get some level of dynamic control over the optical infrastructure," Dunstan said.
Participants in the SuperComm demonstration are Agilent Technologies, Alcatel, Avici, Ciena, Cinta Networks, Cisco Systems, Coriolis Networks, Corvis, Data Connection, Geyser Networks, Huawei Technologies, Lucent Technologies, Metro-Optix, Nortel Networks, ONI Systems, Optisphere Networks, Optivera Technologies, Redback Networks, Spirent Communications, Sycamore Networks, Tellium, Tenor Networks, Turin Networks, Village Networks and Zaffire.