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Cisco on Routed Optical Networking: The operational efficiency of it all (Part 1)

Enhancements to Routed Optical Networking solutions can lower power consumption up to 45%, Cisco says

I’ve been covering 5G as a broad subject area for about six years and change. Looking back at that body of work, the vast, vast majority is focused on how operators and technology vendors have advanced the radio access and core networks. But, as Ethernet inventor and internet pioneer Bob Metcalfe told me in an interview when I was still a very green telecom industry journalist, “You can’t have wireless without wires.” As such, it’s probably time to start looking into the transport network. 

And while I’m running late (as usual), the time is still right. While 5G marked a major step-change in how the RAN and core were architected and operated, transport has been the domain of incremental innovation; but now, based on conversations with Cisco executives, it looks like transport is getting its own step change that challenges the adage of “switch where you can, route where you must.” Beyond just the technological enhancements in transport networking, Cisco also sees its Routed Optical Networking as a key driver of operators’ ESG goals. In fact, the company says its latest solution set can cut power consumption up to 45% and, given the cost dynamics, enable CSPs to reach farther into un- and underserved areas to bridge the digital divide and give more people access to the internet. 

“20 years ago the router was the most expensive element in the network so we architected networks to be as cost-effective as possible, Cisco’s Shaun McCarthy, vice president of sales for the Mass-Scale Infrastructure Group, told me on the sidelines of the recent Cisco Live event in Las Vegas. But that paradigm has changed and so should the traditional CSP thinking that comes along with it. 

Cisco’s Routed Optical Networking simplifies architectures and operations by merging IP and private line services into a single layer; switching is done in Layer 3 and routers use standardized pluggable optics. Open data models and standard APIs support much more powerful automation capabilities. Given the clear benefits to this approach, both from a cost and performance perspective, I asked McCarthy why this isn’t the defacto standard for operators. 

“The friction is the way we’ve organized ourselves around this stuff,” he said. “If you go to a service provider and you look at their organizational structure, they’ll have a separate optical team from their IP team.” Capacity planning is different, procurement processes are different, power dynamics are sticking points. “About a year ago, we were talking about converging IP and optical. Generally it’s a 50% savings in capex, roughly about the same in opex, and it’s sustainable. They were like, ‘No, no, no; can’t do it.’ Now they’re all saying, ‘Yeah, it’s happening, it’s inevitable, but how do we do it?’ In a greenfield network, it’s super easy. In a greenfield organization, super easy. But it’s this tremendous amount of disruption and change. It’s going to happen but it’s going to take time. The companies that will rethink their orgs are the ones that are going to go faster.” 

McCarthy said that Cisco has about 130 Routed Optical Networking customers—”and these are big customers”—who are leveraging this new, simplified approach because “A. You’re drastically reducing the number of elements in the network and most of these are based on our new platforms which are super, super low power…[and] B. It’s process too. You’ve used the same process to figure out capacity planning for optical for 10 years, 15 years, and it’s a different process for IP planning. There’s just a re-thinking of a lot of these operational aspects. It’s a multi-year journey. It’s absolutely happening. It’s just a matter of how long it’s going to take to happen.” 

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story that will look at the role of automation in more efficiency, flexible transport network operations.


Sean Kinney, Editor in Chief
Sean Kinney, Editor in Chief
Sean focuses on multiple subject areas including 5G, Open RAN, hybrid cloud, edge computing, and Industry 4.0. He also hosts Arden Media's podcast Will 5G Change the World? Prior to his work at RCR, Sean studied journalism and literature at the University of Mississippi then spent six years based in Key West, Florida, working as a reporter for the Miami Herald Media Company. He currently lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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