Intelligent, all-optical 'Net years away

By Jim Duffy, Network World |  Networking

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Significant work remains to be done if the industry is to realize the full benefits of intelligent optical networking for scaling the Internet and making it more reliable, according to industry visionaries.

At the Next Generation Networks (NGN) conference last week, experts offered sometimes sharply diverging views on how to handle the exploding growth of traffic on the Internet and make it more resilient. They also debated the roles of routers and optical switches in supporting those and other business-critical operations.

The consensus is that the optical Internet is still in its infancy and that much progress needs to occur in standards definition, product development and interoperability. Further work needs to be done in bridging optical "islands" to foster an end-to-end, all optical IP infrastructure to replace today's public network.

"I feel we're at the end of the 'first beginning' of a decade-long effort to rebuild the public network infrastructure," says John McQuillan, president of McQuillan Ventures and chairman of the NGN conference. "There are many remaining challenges in making the 'Net better. We still have work to do."

McQuillan's reference to the "first beginning" indicates an expectation that the industry may attempt to pass through several stages in its quest to deconstruct the public network and rebuild it as the optical Internet.

One of those stages is making the 'Net more scalable and defining the role optics plays, if any. Traffic and bandwidth requirements on the 'Net are doubling every two to six months, pundits say, and differences of opinion exist on how to accommodate that growth.

The role of MPLS

Many believe Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS), a technique devised to enable electronic routers and switches to scale the 'Net, can be connected to optical infrastructures. But some believe MPLS is not a scalability panacea.

"MPLS is not the one answer to all problems. It has properties that limit scalability," says Judy Estrin, president and CEO of start-up Packet Design. "The replacement of globally known addresses with [MPLS] tags limits scalability."

MPLS will help resolve the scalability problem by letting routers manage changing traffic patterns and set up faster connections, says Desh Deshpande, CEO of Sycamore Networks. That may provide the intelligence necessary to make the optical Internet a more dynamic environment where bandwidth can be set up and torn down on demand.

But scalability is just the situation optics is designed to address, he says.

"The only problem optics has to solve is the scalability problem," Deshpande says. "If you can create these flexible pipes and fill them up with 10G bit/sec [of bandwidth], that's a scalable model."

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