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The Adaptive Network Vision – An Executive Q&A

As network demands and needs grow and evolve, Ciena envisions new opportunities and changes for the future of networking.

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Wenjie Dong

The networking industry is being disrupted. 

There is an explosion in network demand, driven by ultra-mobile users who want the ability to access the cloud and consume high-definition content, video, and applications when and where they choose. This network disruption will only continue in the future with the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G—both of which require billions of devices to interact with machines, users, and the cloud to drive consumer and business interactions.

As a result, network providers must prepare for an industry transformation that will create new opportunities. We sat down with Ciena’s Rebecca Prudhomme, VP of Portfolio Marketing, to address what network providers need to do to seize these opportunities. 

Q: Rebecca, let’s start by asking what makes this disruption so different, and why do network providers need to really pay attention?   

A: Great question. Network providers are dealing with a set of very challenging market dynamics. Everyone wants more from their network providers, but they aren’t necessarily willing to pay more. This is driving the need for providers to continually lower their cost structures, reduce their operating expenses, accelerate time to revenue, and launch and retire new services at unprecedented speeds. In short, providers need their networks to help them achieve better business outcomes in a new world of over-the-top competition and demanding, connected users.

But the reality is that many providers are struggling with networks that depend on legacy systems and protocols, leaving them unable to rapidly scale and respond to changes in demand. Manual processes are often still required to set up, revise, and tear down even the simplest services. Today’s networks aren’t designed to adjust to these growing and unpredictable demands. They need to figure out an effective way to adapt.

Q: So how does a network provider address these challenges?

A: To address these challenges, network providers have been looking at new technologies to create better cost structures and add agility to their businesses. Over the last few years, serious exploration and trials have helped us understand what’s needed to evolve networks. Among them are trials around open software, systems and platforms, the use of APIs, multi-vendor management, analytics, and automation.

From this exploration, there’s universal agreement that whichever technologies are at play, the industry needs a more responsive, automated, and agile self-optimizing network. Some believe an autonomous network is the answer. Ciena has a different vision—one that takes the importance of automation into account, but looks beyond automation to ensure networks can adapt to change, guided by human intent and insight, and not just be automated in reaction to change. We refer to this new end-state in networking evolution as the Adaptive Network.

Q: Interesting. Could you explain the difference between autonomous and adaptive?

A: An autonomous network implies that automation is all you need to optimize the management and operations of the network. We don’t believe this is practical. Although increased automation is definitely key to network transformation, and will drive significant benefits to the provider, more is needed. Providers need data-driven analytics and insights that provide real-time visibility into their networks to identify the changes required to optimize network performance.  They then need to manage the automation of these changes in the network, guided by  policy and orchestration, across multiple network layers and multi-vendor domains.  An adaptive network embraces this more holistic approach—it leverages automation and a programmable infrastructure, guided by analytics and intent-base policies.

Q: Let’s explore the Adaptive Network vision. What is it, exactly?

A: The Adaptive Network is Ciena’s network vision that describes what we believe is a new target end-state for network providers. The Adaptive Network utilizes automation guided by intent-based policies to self-monitor, self-configure, self-heal, and self-optimize by constantly assessing network status. The concept of the Adaptive Network is built on three foundational elements that, when combined, offer a unique approach:

  1. Software control and automation – Multi-Domain Service Orchestration (MDSO) and centralized, software-defined control of individual domains are key to adaptive networking. Through the implementation of SDN, NFV, and open APIs, network providers can simplify the end-to-end management and automation of network services across multi-vendor, hybrid networks.
  2. Analytics and intelligence – Collecting network performance data and analyzing it using machine learning provides the ability to more accurately predict potential network problems and anticipate trends by turning mountains of data into actionable insights. Leveraging these insights to help network providers develop smarter, data-driven business policies enables them to adapt to customer needs securely, in real time.
  3. Programmable infrastructure – This is a packet and optical infrastructure designed to securely manage a dynamic pool for virtual and physical resources that can be accessed and configured via common, open interfaces. It’s highly instrumented, with the ability to export real-time network performance data, scaling as needed to meet the demands of the applications running on top of it.

Q: How is Ciena’s Adaptive Network vision different from others?

A: Most vendors suggest a ‘silver bullet’ approach to network evolution based on the concepts of a fully autonomous network. Our vision of the Adaptive Network is more holistic and flexible. We believe that it’s only with the combination of automation, intelligence, infrastructure programmability, and the right expertise that providers can unlock the full potential of their networks.

Q: Are there any real-world case studies that demonstrate how Ciena is helping network providers evolve toward the Adaptive Network?

A: Ciena is helping many of our customers embark on their journeys toward the Adaptive Network. Here are two public examples:

  • Telstra – To realize its long-haul, metro, and regional optical network upgrade (part of its Networks for the Future program), Telstra is working with its long-term partner, Ericsson, and using Ciena’s packet-optical solutions. As part of this project, Telstra has deployed Ciena’s Wavelogic Ai coherent modem, making Telstra the industry’s first provider to deploy a fully programmable 400G coherent modem.

WaveLogic Ai—managed and controlled by Ciena’s Blue Planet Manage, Control and Plan (MCP) domain controller and Liquid Spectrum™ applications—provides tunable capacity up to 400 Gb/s to deliver maximum network performance at minimum cost. It offers up to three times data capacity and enables up to 60 percent reduction in power per bit, but also introduces the opportunity for more flexibility and dynamic software-based control of Telstra’s optical transport network. This technology gives Telstra the ability to adjust bandwidth in the network in real time, allowing them to optimize capacity and fiber investment to meet customer demands and evolve toward the Adaptive Network.

  • Windstream – A key path for Windstream in its evolution to a more adaptive network is to introduce greater automation to support the service lifecycle across its multi-vendor, multi-domain network, and associated Operational Support Systems (OSS).

This initiative is being built around Ciena’s Blue Planet Intelligent Automation Platform. Blue Planet MDSO is a key component of the Blue Planet Intelligent Automation Platform, a cohesive system that includes Software-Defined Networking (SDN)-based domain control and an integrated analytics framework. MDSO provides centralized, unified control to simplify end-to-end service automation, reduce costs, and accelerate service velocity.

Blue Planet has allowed Windstream to modernize their network operations and radically improve the efficiency of their service delivery. Further, Blue Planet’s agile development approach facilitates collaboration between Windstream’s network and IT teams. Now they can innovate new services more rapidly.

For more details on this case study, please refer to the Analysys Mason Case Study, Windstream: Intelligent Multi-Layer/Multi-Domain Network Automation with SDN.

Q: Why does Ciena have the right to claim you can deliver on something like this?

A: Innovation is in our DNA. We’ve spent the past 25 years bringing cutting edge innovations and best-in-class technologies to more than 1,300 customers worldwide—our solutions are the most open and scalable in the market today. As a trusted advisor to our customers, we’ve developed an understanding of their needs that’s unmatched in the industry; we’ve harnessed this knowledge to form our Adaptive Network vision, and we’re committed to guiding our customers in their network evolutions.

Q: How does Ciena’s current portfolio support the Adaptive Network story?

A: Ciena’s Adaptive Network vision has been more than five years in the making. It started with our OP Architecture and the introduction of WaveLogic 3 programmable coherent optics in 2012. In 2014, we introduced the WaveLogic Photonics reconfigurable photonic layer, and in 2016 we introduced WaveLogic Ai. This was followed by a series of key launches in 2017, including MCP, Blue Planet Analytics, Waveserver Ai, and Liquid Spectrum. In 2018, we introduced our Blue Planet Solution Practices and Intelligent Automation platform. This demonstrates a proven commitment to helping our customers achieve greater automation, intelligence, and programmability in their networks. Going forward, we’ll continue to invest in and evolve our portfolio to deliver on the promise of the Adaptive Network. This will include the next generation of WaveLogic technology, new Liquid Spectrum apps, analytics, security, data-driven policy, multi-vendor services, and much more.

Q: Why is openness so critical to Ciena’s Adaptive Network vision?

A: Openness gives providers choice in the technologies they can deploy to enable their network evolution. Providers that embrace openness will be able to select the technology solutions that best meet their needs in terms of operational fit, performance, power consumption, and telemetry. This will result in dramatically lower costs, increased agility, simpler scalability, and a network architecture that is highly flexible. That flexibility allows the network to take advantage of future innovations that may not be apparent today.

Ciena’s vision of the Adaptive Network is underpinned by our OPn philosophy. We offer customers the greatest degree of choice in how they evolve and execute their network strategies. With design principles such as modularity and open APIs, we can support the broadest range of openness and consumption models in the market. For example, we’ve delivered open interfaces that make packet-optical WANs more programmable and interoperable, including open APIs and open line system capabilities. We offer open tools and environments like our Emulation Cloud™ and Blue Planet DevOps Toolkit. These enable our customers to easily add, design, and model new services while simplifying operations. And we facilitate and participate in an open ecosystem that enables both large and small vendors to mix and match best-of-breed technology for any desired architecture.

Q: What is the role of security in the Adaptive Network, and how does Ciena address this concern?

A: Security is paramount in the Adaptive Network to ensure the efficiency and flexibility it provides can be utilized without fear of adversaries abusing those same capabilities. Network providers must consider the following security requirements as they evolve their networks to become more adaptive:

  • Identify and secure the exponential growth in data traffic over the network
  • Ensure automated changes are authorized and implemented as intended, so these changes increase, not decrease, availability and performance of the network
  • Enhance authentication processes so only authorized users have access to the control and management functions of the network

Ciena can help providers mitigate data security risks in the Adaptive Network through a set of capabilities designed to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of network data.

We provide a highly secure, programmable infrastructure that ensures continuous protection of all in-flight data from unauthorized entities. This infrastructure combines always-on, high-capacity, wire-speed optical encryption with user authentication and intrusion detection forensics. In addition, Blue Planet MDSO supports fast, seamless deployment of multi-vendor security Virtual Network Functions (VNFs). This enables providers to distribute and manage virtual security network appliances (such as firewalls, IDS, encryptors, and proxy services) as needed, ensuring consistent security levels across the network. Blue Planet also provides sophisticated tools for managing network performance, orchestrating data flows, and analyzing network trends. These tools can be used to help network providers identify and react to potential cybersecurity attacks faster, minimizing the impact of a security breach.

These security capabilities are underpinned by Ciena’s commitment to securing our own business. We protect our own information assets and those of our partners, and we have confidence in the security processes and controls that go into every design, deployment, and operation of a Ciena-enabled network.

 

Q: In closing, how can the Adaptive Network help unlock opportunities for network providers?

A: We opened this discussion by talking about ultra-mobile users and how they’re driving a demand explosion of unprecedented complexity. That’s putting pressure on network providers. By evolving to the Adaptive Network and harnessing the power of a programmable infrastructure and automation guided by intent-based policies and analytics, they can capitalize on an enormous opportunity. If providers begin evolving their networks now, they can be prepared for the next big disruption. That means getting a jump on competitors, adapting to meet rapidly accelerating demand, and remaining a trusted provider in the midst of significant industry transformation. 

Thank you for joining us!

Learn more about The Adaptive Network Vision here.

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