Legacy network designs are inefficient and inflexible on so many levels. For one thing, most networks are built to support a specific use case or application – say residential broadband, managed hosting, or mobile backhaul. That means a new network is needed every time an IT, communications, cloud provider, or operator wants to bring a new service to market – and that means extremely long go-to-market delays and major missed revenue opportunities.

Then there’s the fact that legacy networks are unable to adapt quickly enough to changing market conditions and customer needs. While the market for 1G connectivity services is falling, the demand for 10G and 100G services is growing by around 20% year on year. With traditional network designs requiring additional hardware to release new capacity, many players can no longer keep pace with demand. What’s more, the cost of purchasing, deploying and commissioning new hardware for every new service is prohibitive.

Finally, the cost of running and maintaining legacy networks is eating into a provider’s already slender margins. As well as hosting and powering sprawling infrastructure components, aging end-of-life equipment requires specialist support skills that are increasingly difficult to come by – with spare parts for some types of legacy equipment in chronically short supply.

Overcoming the challenges with a ‘future’ network architecture

The networks of the future will help overcome the entire gamut of legacy network challenges. The question is, what exactly does a future-ready network look like?

It’s something we think about every minute of every day at Ciena. Here’s my brief overview of what the term ‘future network’ means to us:

1) Future networks will be scalable - Programmable, like a computer? Yes, pretty much. It will be possible to scale up available bandwidth between locations or datacentres on demand with a few simple commands, with no need to upgrade hardware or software anywhere in the network. This programmable scalability will be the bedrock of any future infrastructure, but the technology already exists to enable this today. Specifically, Ciena programmable infrastructure already allows seamless scalability from 1G to 10G, 100G, 200G, 400G and – in the near future – 1TB transport, ensuring that the network stays ahead of future traffic demands.

2) Future networks will be space and power efficient - Legacy network infrastructure typically requires additional hardware to open up new capacity and support new services. The inevitable outcome is sprawling infrastructure, often legacy IP router infrastructure, that takes up more space in data centres and has higher power and cooling, maintenance support and other requirements – leading to high OPEX. Future networks will be much more efficient, with traffic being aggregated by a far smaller number of highly scalable IP and Ethernet platforms.

3) Future networks will be automated - Provisioning and other tasks are extremely resource intensive, especially in multi-vendor environments. With provisioning decisions touching a number of teams internally, provisioning, routing and bringing new services to market can take up to two years, even if the required capacity already exists. Future networks will be far more responsive with intelligent automation enabling digital transformation of key components and business processes.

Ciena is delivering this vision today with Blue Planet enabling intelligent automation to close the gap between IT and the network, which enables service providers to succeed in their digital transformations—bringing together best-in-class multi-domain, multi-layer orchestration, inventory federation, analytics, and route optimization and assurance capabilities.

4) Future networks will be disaggregated - This sounds a bit painful, but it’s actually a great way to reduce network complexity and costs. It’s all about taking features and functionality that were previously needed on devices across the network and migrating them into an orchestration layer. This means you need less processing power and storage on individual network devices, helping to reduce the overall network footprint, real-estate costs, power and cooling costs, maintenance and support costs, to name a few.

Again, Ciena is already doing this today with our portfolio of IP and Ethernet aggregation solutions. By disaggregating only the IP functions needed to the orchestration layer, we eliminate the need for costly, full-featured IP stacks on devices across the network – delivering major cost savings and simplifying network management and support.

5) Future networks will be universal - Traditionally, carriers built separate networks for each use case, resulting in a complex web of infrastructure to operate and maintain. With the ability to disaggregate key protocols and functions into the orchestration layer, it becomes possible to add new ones incrementally to support new service types as needed. This means it’s possible to deliver a wide range of services, including business Ethernet services, mobile backhaul services, cloud connectivity, and residential broadband services, over the same cost-effective network architecture. Once again, Ciena is delivering this part of the future network vision already with our IP and Ethernet aggregation portfolio.

6) Future networks will be open and simple to manage - Legacy networks are typically extremely expensive and time consuming to manage and support, requiring multiple systems to manage multi-vendor technologies and multiple custom interfaces to link network equipment into northbound systems, including the OSS. Future networks will support management of multiple network domains and multi-vendor equipment from a single, intuitive interface.

Ciena is pioneer in this field, and our Blue Planet Manage, Control and Plan (MCP) software is already allowing the monitoring and management of network resources – as well as the provisioning and turn up of new services quickly and easily across multi-vendor and multi-domain networks.

7) Future networks will be self-aware and self-healing - Legacy networks may experience reliability issues, especially if equipment is nearing the end of its lifecycle. In the future, however, networks will be self-aware, allowing them to predict traffic bottlenecks and other issues and take action to ensure that customer-facing services are never compromised.

Ciena has already started down this road, with advanced network data telemetry capture and analytics capabilities built into our Blue Planet software. Today, we can already provide both a historical and a real-time view of network infrastructure, along with service-by-service performance monitoring. These insights can be fed into a capacity planning dashboard to help teams prepare for future traffic and service QoS requirements. The level of automation for network analytics and self-healing is increasing all the time, and Ciena is leading the way.

Are you ready? 

Wherever you are in your network journey, moving towards Ciena’s future network vision can help you scale bandwidth and services on demand, improve operating efficiency, and deliver even more value for your customers. Find out how at //www.ciena.com/converged-ip-ethernet.