Reflections on OFC 2014: The industry is approaching a critical junction.

It all starts with traffic: a number of speakers at OFC highlighted the fact that datacenter traffic is far more random and dynamic than traditional telco network traffic, and this put a spotlight on the development of ‘elastic’ or ‘flexible’ networks. Iaonnis Tomkus of the Athens Information Technology Center, for example, said that the peak to average traffic ratio is now 6.5:1 compared to 2.5:1 fifteen years ago. A Cumulus Networks representative said they want to enable enterprise customers to subscribe to cloud services with the click of a mouse, and hence cloud providers need to provision bandwidth in seconds, not the weeks that it would take via the traditional telecom service provider bandwidth procurement and turn-up process. A variety of solutions were in evidence at the show that allow networks to dynamically allocate bandwidth, both at the wavelength and the circuit (optical path) level, including flexible 40/100G transponders, flexible wavelength switches and S-BVT (sliceable bandwidth variable transponders).

A second topic receiving a lot attention was ‘data center virtualization’ which is the creation of large datacenters based on logical connections and management across any number of discrete physical locations. Intune Technologies CTO John Dunne described how one telco used a 40-wavelength WDM optical packet switch to create a virtual datacenter composed of over 100,000 servers in 18 different physical locations. Yural Bachar of Facebook described how Facebook is currently working to disaggregate its datacenters, separating compute servers, memory, flash storage, disk storage, and other functions into discrete pieces of equipment, all of which need to be interconnected, typically via optics. Rob Bath of Digital Realty said they are now working to create virtual datacenters from ‘distributed islands of resources’.

A third trend in evidence was the shift in focus among access network operators and equipment vendors from solutions optimized for FTTH, to architectures better suited for the delivery of multiple services, including mobile backhaul.  Jun-ichi Kani of NTT said that they are working to optimize their access networks to carry mobile broadband and WiFi, along with FTTH, via dynamic wavelength allocation, software-defined optical modules, flexible grids, and C-RAN virtualization.

Lastly, the growing acceptance of ‘good enough’ optics across more and more of the industry was evident. Ciena CEO Gary Smith said that there is growing recognition that lengthy standards development processes can impede development and inhibit innovation. Ciena is now willing to partner with other key vendors and work on joint development outside the traditional RFI/RFP/RFQ process. David Maltz of Microsoft said he views the 25 Azure datacenters as ‘loud, noisy factories’ where equipment fails regularly, and needs to be replaced quickly. They plan for equipment failure and obsolescence, and engineer things so they can reuse the installed fiber plant over several generations of hardware.

All these trends put more pressure on optical component and module vendors to innovate. Just a year ago, module suppliers were talking about the challenges of designing CFP4 and QSFP28 LR4 (10km reach) transceivers. This year CFP4 modules were on display at all leading suppliers and several vendors demonstrated even QSFP28 LR4 modules in action. Some of these products are using silicon photonics, but the majority relies on a more proven InP technology.

Technology using 25Gbps lane rates was popular in QSFP28 short reach transceivers and active optical cables from Avago, Finisar, Fujitsu, Mellanox and TE Connectivity. For those needing even more density at high data rates, embedded optical modules with 25Gbps lane rates were operating at FCI, Samtec and TE Connectivity.  While Finisar had shown a 12x25G EOM previously at SC13, Avago surprised OFC with a 12x25G CXP2 transceiver product.  The new CDFP MSA group released their mechanical specs and Finisar, Molex/Luxtera and TE Connectivity demonstrated their 16x25G AOC offerings.  TE Connectivity also showed that 400Gbps can be achieved using just 6W per end, even with CDRs turned on. 

Postdeadline sessions of the conference offered a glimpse on future integrated products, including:

  • Generation and transmission of 400G signals over 400 km of a standard single mode fiber using a monolithic 2x4 1550nm VCSEL array and coherent detection (Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs and VERTILAS).

  • An integrated InP transmitter at 224Gbps with advanced modulation (Alcatel-Lucent III-V Lab).

  • A monolithic InP transmitter and coherent receiver integrated modules operating at 130Gbps (Alcatel-Lucent, U2T Photonics, Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz Institute, VPIphotonics and Universidad de Malaga).

  • A single-chip silicon photonics 100G coherent transceiver (Acacia Communications).

Detailed analysis of the latest product announcements and market developments will be presented by LightCounting in several upcoming reports, but clients are welcome to request individual discussions with our analyst team.

Copies of presentations from the LightCounting dinner seminar at OFC 2014 are also available to all clients. Please email to request a copy.

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