7 April 2015 8:29:28 AM
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I’m starting to think that enthusiasm for a conference seems to follow the Gartner Group hype cycle - a huge buildup leading up to the event, followed by the culture shock of returning to your day job, and later the realization that you learned a bunch of useful things after all. It was only last week that the world’s largest optical conference, OFC 2015, wrapped up in Los Angeles, and it was an adjustment getting up each morning and not having to check a program to see where I was going to spend the rest of my day. But upon further reflection (no optics pun intended), I felt that OFC made a real impact this year. In this blog, we’ll recap a few of the highlights from last week, as well as some personal observations, in no particular order.
If OFC had an informal theme this year, it would have to be data centers.
The focus seems to have shifted from telecommunications and long haul optical networks to cloud computing and software-defined networking. A venture capitalist commented during their presentation that all business models which aren’t based on the cloud edge are irrelevant. Even the new component technologies, including the emerging 100G form factors were being motivated by the cloud market. Traditional optical transceiver suppliers have been working hard to adapt their investment and business models to this new challenge. Some even suggested that another source of funding (like the federal government) might be needed to pay for the next round of innovation in the industry because of this shift in priorities.
Software defined networking (SDN) was everywhere.
Despite some noteworthy successes, there’s still disagreement on what SDN really means. Service providers like NTT and Telefonica described their success in deploying SDN technology for production transport networks, a departure from the traditional data center applications. Others felt that SDN implies commodity white box switches, or a replacement for BGP and GMPLS protocols. While centralized management seems to have clear benefits for use cases in cloud computing, others point to the inherently distributed nature of the Internet as evidence that this aspect of SDN isn’t necessary. One attendee at the rump session on whether it was “game over” for hardware commented after an SDN presentation, “I have three words…Betamax, SDN, Optical Storage”. The very next day, a half dozen major cloud service providers described the huge capital and operating expense savings they had realized using various features of SDN (so regarding the previous evening’s prediction, I can only recall what Meatloaf famously said…. I suspect that over time, networks will end up being more heavily software controlled, just as servers and storage have both given way to virtualization and abstraction.
Here are a few more of my observations and memorable moments from OFC 2015:
- Things to tell your grandchildren moment: you were here during the International Year of Light, sanctioned by the United Nations.
- Least known OFC fact: IBM Power8 series is the first computer system to be implemented with a standardized PCI Gen 3 optical bus extension.
- Best giveaway on the trade show floor: stuffed monkey toys from Adva Optical Networking.
- Most unusual giveaway on the trade show floor: chocolate optical transceivers (really). Insert your own joke here…they won’t pass high temperature reliability testing, they won’t work in a vanilla white box, etc.
- Boldest prediction during the rump session: “Today we’re talking about data centers; in 2 years we’ll be talking about cities.”
- Biggest contradiction: Facebook wants high reliability optics, but their components only have to last 5 years at most until the data center hardware is refreshed for other reasons.
- Song that kicked off the live band at OFC reception: I got a feeling (tonight’s gonna be a good night) by The Black Eyed Peas.
- Song that should have kicked off the OFC reception, in deference to the optical transceiver industry: Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.
Biggest OFC related announcements:
The conference may be just a memory, but you can still review videos of selected sessions online. So take a few days off, then start planning for next year in Anaheim. And let me know if you have a favorite OFC moment to share (@Dr_Casimer).