ONF pushes optical vendors into open source with ODTN project

AI network graphic
ONF's ODTN project is bringing open source to the optical transport sector. (Pixabay)

Backed by its operator membership, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is continuing its effort to herd traditional telco vendors into the world of open source.

To wit: ONF announced its Optical Disaggregated Transport Network (ODTN) open source project on Wednesday, which is backed by China Mobile, Comcast, NTT, TIM and Telefónica.

Like similar efforts by ONF, ODTN was designed to put operators in control of projects and to negate vendor lock-in by allowing service providers to select best-of-breed components instead of buying an entire system from a single vendor.

While open source has been around for years now, there's still some foot dragging by vendors that don't want to abandon the traditional vendor/operator relationships.

"I think, frankly, there is still some resistance," said Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystem for the Open Networking Foundation. "It's a mixed spectrum. What we are doing is disruptive to the industry. We recognize that and we make no excuses for that. That's what our operator leadership is asking us to do.

"We think forward-leaning vendors are finding ways to navigate this and we do think there are business opportunities for them. But they need to find a way to transform their businesses and product lines."

Also missing from the ranks are other operators that have been active in open source, such as AT&T, Verizon and Orange. Sloane said ONF had talks with various operators late last year, but not all of them decided to put their resources towards ODTN. A spokesman for AT&T said the telco was aware of ODTN and that it was monitoring the progress. 

"We started reaching out to about a dozen operators late last year," said Marc De Leenheer, a member of the technical staff at ONF and lead on the ODTN project. "We had the first blueprint in place in December and then in January we had all of the vendors together. All of it has come together over the past four months and we have shown incredible results."

Disaggregation in networks was largely pioneered through web-scale operations by cloud providers such as Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. Sloane said the cloud operators were also at the discussion table early on, but so far none of them have decided to join in.

"Google's actively monitoring the work as are all of our member operators," Sloane said. "We think that there is a possibility down the road where some of them may see applicability.

"We've kind of learned that it's more important to have a small, effective team than to have as many bodies as possible in the room. We absolutely think we have that kind of team formed. It's moving at a pace and the results are proving that to be true."

The ODTN project is the latest phase in the ONF's Strategic Plan that was announced in March, which included marshalling numerous components from across the open source ecosystem to produce integrated distribution for use in lab and field trials. The strategic plan also included operator-driven reference designs for equipment manufacturers to speed up the processes.

NEC, Nokia, Oplink and ZTE have signed up to contribute to the ODTN software platform, while ADVA, Ciena, Coriant, CoAdna, Infinera and Lumentum will take part in the lab and field trials. From the academic side, Catalan Communications Technology Centre is also onboard with ODTN. Telefónica is slated to conduct a lab trial this month, while NTT's lab trial will follow in June.

"This is the first open source project in the optical transport space," Sloane said. "Optical is a complicated space and with analog it makes the technology kind of hard."

The goal of ODTN is to build optical transport networks by using disaggregated optical equipment, open and common standards and open source software. The design enables operators to mix and match multiple components into complete platforms. In addition to breaking up vendor lock-in, other benefits include faster innovation and cost containment.

The approach allows equipment suppliers to focus their efforts on one area of the network, such as transponders, instead of building the entire platform. Using this approach, vendors can focus on innovation and lower R&T costs, according to ONF.

ODTN's design includes each optical link using a matched pair of transponders from a single vendor. Unlike single-vendor offerings, the ODTN network can use a different brand of transponder for each colored wavelength, and those transponders can operate on an open line from additional suppliers.

ODTN uses the ONF's ONOS SDN controller to oversee and control the entire transport network while also keeping track of the disaggregated components.

The first phase for ODTN is to disaggregate the transponder from the open line systems to create a point-to-point topology. The next phases will focus on ring and mesh topologies in optical networks.