DENVER -- NFV & Carrier SDN -- While SDN has had a long reign as one of the buzzwords of the telecom industry in general and the transport network in particular, there's a new kid on the block: programmable functional disaggregation.
Programmable functional disaggregation was one of the main topics during the first panel at the event on Tuesday in Denver. Panel moderator Sterling Perrin, senior analyst at Heavy Reading , said that AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) championed the concept of network disaggregation at a previous conference. Programmable functional disaggregation breaks up network equipment into "build your own" components. The new components are smaller, more flexible and leverage open source technologies.
As one of the leaders in the disaggregation movement, Perrin turned the topic over to Fujitsu Networks' Joe Mocerino, principal solutions architect of packet optical network, who explained the benefits of a stepped programmable functional disaggregation approach.
"Perhaps that first level of functional disaggregation is where the optics are disconnected from the actual plug in models and then you have your whole suite of various optics," he explained. "Moving to the next degree of functional disaggregation, you have the open APIs, the cross functional standards, and being able to connect one vendor's transponder to a different vendor's ROADM in an optical portion of the network."
That ROADM could in turn be connected to another vendor's packet switch and then the packet switch could be connected to another vendor's SDN network controller for management over the entire transport layer.
"That's what we see as the advantage of going forward with a disaggregation network," he said. "The ability to scale well, to scale with flexibility when moving forward with standards and being able to have those open APIs in a standard SDN controller."
Disaggregation traces its roots to IT networks, but some communications service providers are seeing the benefits as well, such as Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT).
"The way we look at this is how do we make networking look like Legos?" said Travis Ewert, senior vice president of global network software development at Level 3. "I think AT&T has done a good job of making network disaggregation the main topic this year whereas SDN was the main topic for a couple of years."
Ewert said network disaggregation has allowed Level 3 to pick the hardware of its choice, "make an OSS decision" and leverage open source solutions.
"It has brought us all kinds of options, but for us mainly just the pluggable one (is big)," he said. "We've been doing the third-party pluggable optics for sometime now and we're clipping along at roughly a $10 million a year savings on just that one alone. So for us to be able to piece that together Lego-style has been huge, but at the same time that does put a new level of integration requirements on the service provider to now play that role, which these folks [the vendors on the panel] have been doing for a long time."
Perrin said that while functional disaggregation brings modularity, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has noted at other conferences that it does put an additional burden on service providers or on other suppliers to assemble and manage the various parts that someone else has put together.
Scott Wilkinson, senior director portfolio marketing, ECI, said while network disaggregation sounds good on one level, "who do you call when something breaks?" In addition, Mike Capuano, vice president of marketing for Infinera Corp. (Nasdaq: INFN) said that disaggregation could result in costs popping up somewhere else.
While network disaggregation is appealing for Level 3 and AT&T, it may not hold as much promise for smaller service providers' networks because they lack scale.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation