Pluggable Coherent Optics: I Love it When a Plan Comes Together
Apr 30, 2016
Difficult tasks take planning and a lot of hard work. If you grew up watching The A-Team you saw this play out every week: a problem no one else could solve with impossible odds - yet somehow they managed to solve it in just an hour. In the product development world things can take a bit longer (perhaps because we lack explosives, helicopters and blow torches), but it all starts with a plan...
DWDM transport is not a new concept - core and metro networks as we know them today were built out using DWDM technologies dating back to the early 90s. That said, DWDM has always been the most technically challenging realm of optical communications. While all early optical interfaces were initially built from of discrete components, lower-complexity client interfaces (e.g. 1/10/100GE) quickly moved to pluggable formfactors such as SFP/XFP/SFP+/XENPAK/CFP/etc. Standardization, high volume manufacturing and a multi-vendor ecosystem made all of this possible.
In 2011 Juniper had a bold plan - what if the same concept could be applied to coherent DWDM optics? This was a pretty nutty idea at the time considering the world's first real-time coherent implementation took place only a year earlier using half a rack of equipment. Even if it could be shrunk down, many proclaimed it would never work or couldn't be deployed.
Implausible as it may have seen at the time, Juniper went ahead anyhow and applied for a patent in early 2011. Several years later a broad patent entitled Pluggable photonics for coherent optical communication was issued in 2015. While the plaque on the wall is nice, taking this concept to market was still a huge task.
Like the client optical market, Juniper believed that an open, healthy ecosystem was critical if pluggable coherent DWDM was to become a reality. To build an ecosystem requires standardization and the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) was determined to be the ideal venue. By turning to the OIF, a Juniper idea soon became an industry collaboration. By 2013 an official project start had been launched and several years of detailed work resulted in the Implementation Agreement for a CFP2 Analogue Coherent Optics Module (aka CFP2-ACO) in 2016.