The Rush to Multi-Layer Orchestration

Many service provider wide area networks (WAN) are comprised of an IP/MPLS and an optical transport layer. The latter can be used to offload certain types of traffic, such as bulk data transfers, from the packet network. As long as the traffic doesn’t need to traverse intermediate WAN locations, this allows network operators to engineer traffic and take advantage of the optical transport’s lower latency and cost.

In most cases, however, there is little coordinated network planning between the Layer 1 and Layer 3 engineering and planning teams. Furthermore, most traffic policy and management today is done at the IP/MPLS layer. Without having visibility into the underlying optical layer combined with multi-layer analytics, engineers cannot perform optimal traffic grooming that takes advantage of the performance, protection, and cost characteristics of each layer.

However, the compelling business benefits of creating an agile network of flexible transport and packet layer resources are hard to resist, and SDN solutions are emerging. With new transport technologies that support optical and IP/MPLS routing, the notion of having centralized service orchestration directing traffic across each layer, based on cost and quality of service requirements, is now viable.

Indeed, some network operators are rushing to take advantage of SDN for multi-layer optimization/orchestration (MLO). Packet Design, in conjunction with optical vendors, is responding to several customer RFIs that include some interesting use cases. Without revealing specifics, examples of these include services activation, disaster recovery, path provisioning, data sovereignty protection, and network capacity/throughput maximization.

Multi-Layer Orchestration diagram

Multi-Layer Orchestration

Clearly, there is a sizable market developing here, and vendors of both electrical and optical technologies recognize the opportunity. Significantly, it represents a way for the optical vendors to expand beyond the transport layer confines to become more strategic suppliers, with access to more of the network operators’ capital budgets. For them, there is much upside, although the path will not be easy. Failure to ‘move up the stack’ will allow Layer 3 vendors to seize the market. For more on this, I encourage you to read this excellent opinion piece by Tom Nolle, president and founder of CIMI Corporation.

It is going to be fascinating to watch the MLO market evolve over the next twelve to eighteen months. Packet Design is delighted to be working with optical vendors to provide the IP/MPLS telemetry, analytics, and orchestration software needed to bring MLO solutions to market. You can read about our latest formal partnership – with Ciena’s Blue Planet division – here.