CALIENT Technologies

Move the light, not the fiber

2013 To Be The Year of Optical SDN?

The software-defined network (SDN) market evolved very quickly in 2012.  In a span of 12 months we saw the technology mature, start-ups get funded, data centers start SDN trials, tech leaders get into the market and start-ups get acquired – it was a very compressed market development cycle.

One of the areas that emerged in 2012, and is poised for great growth in 2013, is optical SDN.  SDN wasdeveloped for IP networks, but it didn’t take long for vendors – including CALIENT – to understand that the network-wide data flow and management benefits of SDN would mesh well with optical networks.

Optical SDN has taken hold in both carrier networks and in the data center.  Here’s a quick primer on the three leading applications:


Hybrid packet-optical data center networks:  This is the network approach championed by CALIENT for improving latency and throughput for big data flows in a data center.  Typical data center networks have top-of-rack switches that connect to servers and then are interconnected through a series of access switches that are, in turn, linked by core switch-routers. All of which can be managed using an SDN controller.  The optical hybrid approach replaces a number of IP access routers with optical circuit switches and embeds intelligence into the network to direct long flows through these switches, leaving the IP switches to handle the more bursty data.   This provides essentially unlimited bandwidth for these large data flows because multiple ports can be combined to scale throughput as necessary.  Already some of the world’s largest data centers are using this hybrid approach

Open Transport Switch (OTS):  An OTS combines an optical transport system with a virtual switch and a software layer that can translate commands from an SDN controller (like OpenFlow).   The OTS is designed for carrier networks and helps them to handle large data flows and also simplifies multivendor network control across multiple carriers or network domains.

Packet-optical SDN switches: the ubiquity and remote service provisioning of packet-optical switching has kept alive this concept through its multiple-year maturation process.  But now with SDN, there is some new movement in this market. Packet-optical SDN switching, which is championed by our partner Cyan, is a technology for metro Ethernet networks and allows carriers to deliver bandwidth-on-demand services.

2013 is poised to be the year when optical SDN becomes a mainstream technology, which bodes well for carrier networks and data centers that need service flexibility and higher throughput.

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