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18 April 2023

Ciena shakes off optics only badge, leans into metro-class routers

Maryland USA’s optical specialist Ciena this week launched a new disaggregated router product, called WaveRouter, which it claims is the first purpose-built router offering for converged metro. This will take the $3.6 billion company head-to-head with giants like Cisco, Juniper, Nokia and Huawei.

The move allows Ciena to push the product like a switching fabric, and use it as a building block to huge metro scale. Consumers have been shifting to applications which use more bandwidth such as cloud-based services, streaming video and online gaming, which this will help accommodate.

WaveRouter combines IP and optical coordination, has open API-based automation, and offers redundant power and cooling, along with the ability to independently scale up compute and switching fabric.

Ciena says this has been designed for this specific era, when IP and optical are coming together, and the company includes a pluggable optical components to provide DWDM (dense wave division multiplexing) capabilities.

A disaggregated router is one that separates routing hardware from routing software. In essence, this is a white label box design based on an open standard with the routing software referred to as a Network Operating System (NOS) separately developed in the same way, via an open cloud-native networking standard. Essentially this can package both IP and optical networking under a single management plane.

The idea behind this type of design is that hundreds of boxes can be put on top of each other in a single chassis and all operate as a single switch – taking switching speeds up to hundreds of terabits per second.

This set up is one step away from actually doing away with specialist routing hardware, and making routing entirely virtual. But, this step eliminates manual re-configuration and deployment of each and every new router.

The hope is that a disaggregated model can also prevent vendor lock-in if each box can be supplied from different competing vendors, which should cut cost of ownership considerably, if these claims are ever proven.

Disaggregated networking can also cover access, edge, and core routing in the same system. It’s just a matter of adding more white box routers and configuring the software to handle different locations in the network, even serving as peering routers in connecting to different networks.

Every disaggregated router is built on an open standard designed to work with cloud-native networking software. As a result, adding a new white box router requires minimal configuration to become part of the broader network.

The network routing software is also developed on open standards. You can mix and match different white box vendors to scale your network, with each cluster being treated as a single routing entity. White box routers can also serve as peering routers to connect to other networks.

AT&T is known to have pioneered this type of system, partnering with Israeli start-up DriveNets and Broadcom, to implement a network cloud stack. This has giving a helping hand to both suppliers, bringing new white box routers to market through the AT&T early support program.

DriveNets raised $587 million on the back of such deals and is also known to be working with KDDI. This sudden surge in success will have stimulated Ciena and others to attempt to crash their way into this market as fast as they can.

In November last year Ciena acquired both Tibit and Benu to build out its portfolio of broadband access, deals which showed how serious Ciena is to expand metro and long-haul domains to the edge of the network.

Benu offers software-defined edge network functions, including a cloud-native broadband network gateway with subscriber management  and a 5G access gateway to support a converged core and a carrier-grade network address translation (NAT) platform.

Ciena says WaveRouter is part of Ciena’s Coherent Routing strategy, which supports exponential growth of metro traffic driven by bandwidth-hungry services such as 5G, high-speed broadband, enterprise business services, and the cloud. WaveRouter’s scalability goes from 6Tbps to 192Tbps and helps out where service providers are experiencing unprecedented traffic demand.

The prevailing opinion is that metro networks are ripe for modernization.

They need to scale and be more reliable, in general, and lots of operators are known to be looking to change how their metros are architected – leveraging cloud-based applications. Major network operators need a new approach to shifting data traffic to and from datacenters, in particular.

“Service providers are looking to simplify their networks through convergence, to gain a competitive edge in a cloud-driven, always-connected world. Until now, they’ve had to compromise when it came to capacity, operational ease, and sustainability. WaveRouter takes an innovative approach, combining the best in IP, coherent optics, and flexible photonics driven by multi-layer operations for real performance and energy advantages,” said Scott McFeely, Senior Vice President, Global Products and Services, Ciena. WaveRouter will be generally available in the third quarter of 2023.

Ciena up until now has primarily been seen as an optical systems vendor but has been building out its router portfolio which makes this a radical change in direction for the company. Ciena just reported routing and switching revenues of $119.5 million up 39% on last year.