Optical networking has been firmly stuck in the past. The impact of merchant silicon, disaggregation, and commoditization that is transforming data networking is now moving into optical devices. Network disaggregation is being forced, once again, by Facebook developing working prototypes.
This time it’s the Telecom Infra Project managing a consortium of manufacturers and component makers to build a DWDM switch over the next couple of years.
Optical vendors have been aggressive with standards avoidance–or to put it more kindly, a “standards plus” strategy. Each optical vendor implements a small change/enhancement to prevent interoperability while claiming that they are interoperable (see interoperable 100G DWDM).
Like data networking before SDN transformed the market, optical customers are forced to select a single vendor for each DWDM network and cope with the negative incentives that stem from limited choice.
Now, instead of making a “once in a network lifetime” vendor decision and getting lumbered with a single provider’s products for a decade or more, this project opens the devices to commoditization, disaggregation, and simplification.
Open Optical Packet Transport Group
Here’s the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) as it defines itself:
The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) is an engineering-focused initiative driven by operators, infrastructure providers, system integrators, and other technology companies that aim to re-imagine the traditional approach to building and deploying telecom network infrastructure. Website
Within TIP are a small number of projects working on open hardware and management solutions for the telco market, including the Open Optical Packet Transport Project Group:
Open Optical Packet Transport Project Group – Define Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) open packet transport architecture, that triggers new pace of technology innovation and flexibility, and avoids implementation lock-ins.
From what I can read, Facebook Voyager is a whitebox DWDM edge switch. The ASIC is a Broadcom Tomahawk. DWDM DSP component maker Acacia Communications’ AC 400 Flex 100G Coherent MSA Module drives the interfaces. Lumentum provides the optoelectronics and Celestica, a large manufacturer of enterprise IT hardware, is building prototypes and a manufacturing pipeline so that products can be ordered when they become available.
Voyager’s optical capabilities cover applications from metro to ultra-long-haul reaches.
The project scope is to produce a full DWDM solution.
Open Packet DWDM uses combined packet and dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) technology for metro and long-haul fiber optic transport networks. It enables a clean separation of software and hardware, and it’s based on open specifications so anyone can contribute packet or DWDM systems, components, or software.
The internal architecture is aligned with modern practices for hardware/software disaggregation. Like the Facebook Backpack second-generation modular chassis switch, the focus is on software and programmability, not the hardware.
It should be around 18 months from the first submission to the release of useful products. I believe this group can get to a first conclusion in Q2 2018. LINK
It will take a couple of years for the project to produce a final product.
SnapRoute is likely providing the IP routing software, such as a BGP protocol stack, while the operating systems is FBOSS.
Why Optical Matters
- Optical networking delivers “long-distance bandwidth” measured in tens of kilometers per run
- Used for metro, long haul and transnational links
- Doesn’t care about endpoints, IP packets, protocols or routers
- Point-to-point circuits between two optical devices
- Fiber optic cables run hundreds or thousands of kilometers
- The physical characteristics of the fiber cable are crucial and fundamental to design and operation
- Each DWDM device most often performs a Optical-Electronic-Optical process to regenerate the signal. Optical Switching and Optical Repeaters remain a niche market
- The circuits between your WAN devices are an overlay built on optical network infrastructure. MPLS circuits are bathed over the DWDM paths and managed by operational platforms
Why Do This?
My thinking on what drives Facebook to support this project:
- For software-based operational control of DWDM devices and to build a device operating system and software for Facebook use (Note: Existing DWDM companies are promoting solutions that are platforms that are mostly closed and restrictive. The goal is to bind the customer to the supplier and prevent commoditization. This is similar to current generation of SDN products for data networking
- Push vendors to change, update, and advance DWDM networking
- Facebook is building out its own transit bandwidth around the globe and wants to have devices that run software that they can match to their business plans
- Making bandwidth cheaper, especially in poorer economic regions like Africa, South American, and Oceania can enable telcos to build more capacity. This will increase the usage of Internet generally and Facebook in particular
- The components, design, and manufacturing resources are readily available. Designing and producing a simple but effective product can be achieved by a small group of people at limited cost. The OCP has proven this repeatedly over the last few years
The EtherealMind View
The emergence of a “whitebox” DWDM product should not be a surprise and has been discussed around the industry for some time. While the total number of customers for this product is much smaller than Ethernet, they do spend very large sums of money very slowly.
The Voyager optical whitebox uses standard Ethernet ASICs and common, well-known WDM components. The real value is in the software, where SDN tools can transform operation and configuration of DWDM backhaul. Today, every vendor has its own quasi-proprietary DWDM software platform that is optimized for its specific hardware and features (sounds familiar, right?).
It will be some years before the impact of this project will flow through to customers. But at least there is some hope that operating a DWDM service could be improved and might offer customers a cheaper, software-operated service.
Facebook Contributions at the TIP Summit – Telecom Infra Project
Terminal Amplifier Whitebox – Lumentum Operations LLC
Let there be light – interoperable 100G DWDM – Kristian Larsson – Network Automation Ninja
SnapRoute Powering a World First – SnapRoute