Is optical networking a commodity item?
This is a question that struck me as I dashed around the exhibition hall at ECOC in London, between meetings and technical presentations. I paused at one of the many Chinese exhibitors offering “good quality, best price!” and certainly the products on offer looked good and the prices being bandied around were staggeringly low, compared with what might be expected of the ‘usual suspects’.
So what constitutes a commodity item? Well to my mind it is where an acceptable quality of product is available from a number of vendors, with the only real differentiator being price. Of course you need to be clear about what is meant by acceptable quality. As someone who is deeply involved with the development of International Standards then I find that compliance with the relevant standards and test methods is usually a pretty good indicator of acceptable quality. Also, of course, it helps a lot in assessing a potential supplier if you know what you’re talking about. If you know enough about the required functions of a particular device then you can specify clearly its required performance. If you understand how the device interacts with other components and subsystems, then you can build it into a system. Then you are in a very strong position to benefit from the commoditisation of optical networking components and subsystems and can build remarkably cost effective optical networking systems. Given the intense pressures on most services providers today to deliver ever greater capacity at ever lower cost per bit then this becomes essential to business survival.
So, are we there yet? Is optical networking a commodity item yet? Like many complicated issues I think the answer to this is probably “it depends…”
It depends to a large extent on the data rates and distances that are involved with your system. At data rates of up to 10Gb/s over modest distances in metro type networks, then there is a fairly strong case for the arrival of commoditisation. In these scenarios you are likely to be able to achieve the lowest cost per Gigabit of transport. These types of applications are exactly the scenarios that are covered by OTT’s entry level certification in optical networking, the Certified Optical Network Associate (CONA). Attending this course will provide you with the knowledge and skills that you need to be able to confidently specify, select, deploy and operate the types of networks that are commonly being used for mobile backhaul, FTTA, dark fibre links etc.
As we go to data rates beyond 10Gb/s, or to bigger and more complex networks, then I think that the answer changes and today we are not in a commodity marketplace… yet. However, the challenges facing major operators mean that they have to get the prices down in the longer term. This is why there is such a buzz in the industry today around SDN and NFV. These will help the forward-looking to benefit from commoditisation of more complex networks in the near future. Again to benefit from this then you need to understand what is required of your future networks for 100Gb/s and beyond, how all the pieces of the jigsaw fit together and what you need to do to plan for the next, next generation of optical networking. All this, of course, is covered in detail on our advanced next generation Certified Optical Network Engineer (CONE).
See you on an OTT certification programme soon. Your potential future savings will certainly repay the cost of the training!