Optical Networks Open Doors

OPTICAL technologies will play a major role in preparing public data networks to handle both the onslaught of new traffic on the Internet and the resulting growth in the demand for service providers.

Developments in optical technology being implemented at the core of service-provider networks are helping streamline networks for data traffic, and lots of it. Developments include dense wave division multiplexing (DWDM) technology, which separates light waves by color to fit more data on a single strand, and optical long-haul technology, which extends the distance optical signals can travel.

The resulting boom in bandwidth promises to change the service-provider landscape, as well as the relationship between service providers and enterprises.

"Optical technology is having a disruptive effect on the carrier network architecture, and as a result, all the rules are changing," says Sean Welch, vice president of marketing at switch vendor Tenor Networks, in Acton, Mass.

Tenor, which makes optical service switches that work with optical transport switches to let the optical core interoperate with the rest of the network, will be rolling out its TN250G optical service switch at the ComNet trade show in Washington this week. The company also will be leading a presentation at ComNet pertaining to mass customization of bandwidth to meet customer needs for services.

As optical technologies open the bandwidth floodgates, the stage is being set for enterprises to outsource more infrastructure and networking services to leverage that speed and availability.

"We are starting to see outsourcing on the access and the metropolitan area network side of optical networking with transparent services like Gigabit Ethernet transport, T1, [and] T3," says analyst Chris Nicoll, director at Current Analysis, in Sterling, Va. "Networks are definitely going the outsourcing route."

Bandwidth-flush service providers are beginning to address the needs of enterprises, which are reluctant to disperse network functions but want flexibility of services.

"Enterprises are starting to turn to the carriers and say, 'I need connectivity between these two or three campuses or buildings, but I want it to look like one network,' " Nicoll says. "I think the new optical technology is addressing that customer requirement. Primarily, the increased bandwidth of optical networking can make those applications look like they are right on [a customer's] site."

The importance of data delivery and quality of service in the enterprise world is blurring the once-distinct lines between service providers and enterprises, and nudging enterprises to relinquish their grasp on some applications.

"With things like service-level agreements, managed services, and shared application services like what ASPs are doing, the line between the two networks -- what is provided by the service provider and what is provided by the enterprise -- is graying out," Nicoll says.

Optical technology is also enabling newer service providers to provision huge amounts of bandwidth on demand. Whereas traditional carrier networks depend on a predicable flow of bandwidth and do not adjust quickly to changes, optical technology can move light waves around to accommodate heavy flows when needed.

Although outsourcing is sure to take off for large and non-critical applications, enterprises will likely hold onto things like payroll and inventory control, Nicoll says.

"A lot of the less critical shared services we will start seeing outsourced because enterprises don't want to have enormous IT staffs run their entire network," Nicoll says. "They want their IT staffs to manage the critical part of their business."

Networking equipment vendors are gearing up for this revolution. Major players are shelling out big bucks for optical start-ups to supply the infrastructure of the future. Cisco Systems last month gained DWDM technology with its purchase of the optical systems business of Pirelli for $2.15 billion, and Nortel Networks recently grabbed optical long-haul technology maker Qtera for 3.25 billion.

There is also activity on the optical standards front. Recently, 50 vendors joined forces to form the Optical Domain Service Interconnect initiative, intended to develop interoperability between electrical-based and optical devices. All this movement signals major changes ahead.

"Optical networking brings the availability of massive bandwidth, [and] new value chains get created as a result," Welch says. "Mass bandwidth changes the equation."

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