FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - Some 160 people representing 110 companies went to the second meeting of the Optical Domain Service Interconnect group two weeks ago, a sign that the vendor community sees promise in the intelligent optical network concept being promoted by Sycamore Networks Inc. and other players.
The idea behind ODSI is to enable network systems to dial up huge chunks of carrier bandwidth on an as-needed basis, what one of Sycamore's founders, Gururaj "Desh" Despande, calls optical virtual private networks.
Despande sees a day when systems will be able to create temporary, cross-country 10-gigabit pipes on the fly. Sound far-fetched? By today's standards, yes. But he says our thinking is confined by today's realities. When WAN bandwidth is as cheap and plentiful as LAN capacity, companies will begin to work in ways we have trouble imagining.
But how do we get there from here? Not on the back of existing carrier infrastructure. The problem, Despande says, is the limitations of the 100,000 SONET fiber rings U.S. carriers have installed.
While SONET is reliable, capacity is scarce, and the way the rings are managed is archaic. Circuits that span multiple rings - many cross eight to 10 - are pieced together using patch panels, and the changes are tracked on paper.
Despande says 25 percent to 30 percent of the SONET infrastructure is still dedicated to circuits that are no longer in use.
To meet skyrocketing bandwidth demands, carriers sometimes have to build new SONET rings, a process that can take six months.
Sycamore, of course, is pushing a newfangled answer - optical gear that combines dense wave division multiplexing with other innovations, including switching.
One system Sycamore sells lets carriers piggyback new wavelengths of light on existing SONET rings, meaning carriers with these boxes can provision point-to-point circuits in days.
Carriers that deploy networks of Sycamore's new switch - still in field trials - will be able to provision high-capacity circuits in minutes simply by turning on new wavelengths of light.
If the ODSI group has its way, ultimately enterprise gear will be able to chat directly with carrier switches and set up and tear down multigigabit pipes without human intervention.
We're still years away from that, but it isn't science fiction. Carriers are drowning in data. Five years ago, who would have thought that AT&T alone would be handling 675 trillion bytes of data per day?
- John Dix
Editor in chief