Earlier this week, Ciena launched the 8700 Packetwave, an important new line of optical networking boxes aimed at solving the challenges of handling the boom in cloud applications and hints at where Ciena is going with Software Defined Networking (SDN).
Service providers are struggling with the massive onslaught of traffic from cloud applications, which is both bursty and prolific. Think of all the consumers hitting Facebook or YouTube servers to upload and retrieve multimedia, or a business user logging into any number of cloud services. The “Webscale” data center is the new driver of bandwidth, and its massive growth and dynamic nature have changed traffic patterns.
This problem intensifies in the “metro” networking, where large amounts of bandwidth are needed to shuttle data between data centers or to service provider central offices. The 8700 will probably find its sweet spot in interconnectivity between large data centers. It combines large-scale optical Ethernet switching with network management “smarts” that provide insight into Ciena’s SDN strategy.
Ciena is sticking with the story of “simplicity” and power — The 8700 focuses on a couple of things and does them well, in this case Ethernet and DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing). Indeed, the 8700 offers scale, with 2 terabits of total Ethernet over DWDM switching capacity. It also supports MPLS-TP, with up to 200 10 gigabit Ethernet (GigE) ports or 20 100 GigE ports. It will solve some of the data-center network’s biggest problems: The ability to move large amounts of Ethernet at lost cost, with low-energy consumption.
Some critics will be quick to point out what the 8700 lacks: It’s lacking the more sophisticated routing functionality of the so-called “packet-optical” genre of networking box, which combines the granularity of IP routers with the scale of optical networks. It also does not support legacy transport protocols such as Sonet. But then again, you may not need your 8-track tape player anymore. As Ciena officials state themselves in the the product literature, “It’s not a bloated god box.”
That’s kind of the point: maybe the days of the “god box” in networking are over. The 8700 is designed to attack a specific pain point, helping service providers quickly move large amounts of bursty cloud traffic over Ethernet and DWDM in a flexible, dynamic way.
One key to the 8700 is that it is coupled with some of Ciena’s newer management tools, which look a lot like SDN. One of those applications is Ciena’s V-WAN network management tool which allows customers to automate and self-provision bandwidth, for example, if they need the network to open up dynamic bandwidth during certain times of the day for specific applications.
This targets another challenge of the cloud, one that Vello Systems’ Karl May recently talked about on the Rayno Report: Managing cloud bandwidth is expensive, and the current approach of loading up on proprietary edge routers and expensive dedicated MPLS connections may not be the most economical answer. The 8700 is designed to “skip” the router in the cloud and provide more control over managing dynamic bandwidth.
So now we have another piece of Ciena’s answer to the question of what SDN means for optical networking vendors. In Ciena’s case, it has presented a vision of coupling more sophisticated management tools with high-powered optical Ethernet switching. Ciena says in the future it will be integrating some of the standards tools of SDN, such as an OpenFlow controller it is developing with Ericsson, into its optical gear.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Is SDN something you can just layer on top of simple yet scaleable optical Ethernet boxes, and solve the problems of the cloud? That’s the bet that Ciena is making with the 8700.