Steve Alexander

Chief Technology Officer, Ciena

Ciena has a unique global perspective on global network deployment. What do you see as major themes in these deployments?  What are the pressing issues that need solutions?

We see two common global themes. First, the need for more connections to more places, and, second, the need for more capacity per connection. Having pioneered the commercialization of two key technologies, Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) and Coherent Optical Communications, we can multiply the capacity of a single optical fiber more than 1000x. Our industry is now able to provide terabit-per-second speeds right to the network edge. Some challenges we’ll face in the future include finding ways to extend coherent DWDM that will allow the technology to be utilized everywhere the network goes, as well as how to add the right types and amounts of software intelligence to the network to allow it to efficiently scale. Importantly, the network will become more connected, but we can’t allow it to become orders of magnitude more complicated and costly to operate.

As the leading equipment supplier to submarine cables, with over 55% of the market share, please give us your views on that market specifically from its development over the last decade to what you see coming over the next decade.

Historically the submarine cable space was a closed market. The old-world Submarine Lightwave Terminal Equipment (SLTE) and associated submarine cables were jointly designed and then sold as an inseparable set. There were only a few vendors that could supply a complete solution. We used our coherent optical technology, where ultra-high-speed Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) calculate the correct solutions for any type of cable to open up that closed market. This means that our technology can be integrated into a legacy cable to upgrade its capacity and dramatically extend its economic life. This “open-architecture” approach has now become the standard way in which submarine cables are designed today.

The next decade will bring further improvements in the performance of SLTE as well as increases in the number of fiber pairs a submarine cable can carry. We also expect continued densification of submarine cable connections around the world with the Internet reaching more of the global population. The submarine cable industry plays a critical role in connecting people around the world, carrying more than 99 percent of intercontinental traffic. It’s just like air. It’s absolutely vital, it’s always there, and it’s always in use.

Ciena equipment is in many of the world’s data centers and allows networks to communicate to each other. How does Ciena view the current and future states of interconnection, peering and data center interconnects?

We view the network as providing two critical functions. First, the network connects users, who create or consume information, to the appropriate data centers. Many of these connections are wireless and mobile. Second, the network interconnects the data centers together allowing for the relocation, distribution, and replication of content, compute resources, and application information.

Over the coming years we see the user-to-content connections undergoing a significant expansion and densification as 4G LTE and 5G wireless technologies are deployed and cable operators replace their analog coax plants with fiber optics. This initiative is also known as “fiber-deep” or network densification. As a result, the data center interconnect fabrics will likewise expand as the numbers of “mega-scale” and regional/local data centers increase. Peering will continue to be a critical Internet function with the establishment of additional public and private peering locations to support new applications and enable and assure the desired end-user experience.

What do you see as the edge of the network and what are your views on edge data centers? What do you see as the growth opportunity for the Richmond NAP in this context?

The network edge isn’t any one thing or in any one place. Depending on what role one plays in the Internet ecosystem, the edge may be a physical device like a network interface device, edge packet switch, or provider-edge router. It can also be a virtual network function like an app on a smart phone, or residing in a smart TV or appliance. The Richmond NAP has a vital role to play in allowing the edge to be programmable, flexible, and located wherever it needs to be to meet business objectives. Many companies will meet their customers in the cloud and conduct a majority of their business in the cloud. Flexible and efficient interconnection of the various network edges is critical to enable fast and efficient transactions. A simple model is “once I’m at the NAP, I can go anywhere.”