Facebook's Voyager Could Disrupt the Optical Transport Space

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 16, 2017

Facebook’s influence on networking continues to expand. In the most recent evidence of this, the social media giant has come out with an open DWDM transport solution called Voyager that is shaking up the optical networking arena. The company says Voyager is the industry’s first white box transponder and routing solution.

Voyager was unveiled late last year at a new event called the TIP Summit. There, Facebook also announced it has contributed the Voyager blueprint to the Telecom Infra Project via the Backhaul: Open Optical Packet Transport project group.

“As the amount of global internet bandwidth required continues to grow, there is major emphasis on how to efficiently deploy fiber both within and between urban and rural areas,” wrote Jay Parikh, global head of engineering and infrastructure at Facebook, in a November blog. “At Facebook, we believe that a key to efficiency is enabling open and unbundled solutions. To that end, our networking team has previously developed a series of projects aimed at breaking apart the hardware and software components of the data center network stack to open up more flexibility and accelerate innovation, as we previously did with our racks, servers, storage, and motherboards in the data center.”

This 1RU packet optical transport box, which features 12x100gbps QSFP 28 clients and 4x200gbps 16QAM on the line side, is not vaporware. Facebook has partnered with subsystem provider Acacia Communications, semiconductor outfit Broadcom, hardware provider Celestica, optical and photonic company Lumentum, and open source software company Snaproute to build the solution, and Equinix (News - Alert) and MTN have already successfully tested it. But anybody can build a Voyager solution if they want to, since Facebook and TIP are sharing the specs.

But what, you may ask, does that mean for the optical vendors already in the marketplace, and how does Voyager compare to the equipment that exists in the marketplace?

At least a few optical companies say they see it as an opportunity.

ADVA Optical Networking and Coriant (News - Alert) have gotten behind the Facebook/TIP Voyager effort, announcing plans to support it. Of course, they are just two of many companies in the optical product category, which is now being disrupted by Voyager.

Coriant is extending its networking software to enable engineering support for Voyager, providing DWDM transmission capabilities, and routing and switching for Voyager, according to the Facebook blog.

ADVA plans to provide commercial support for Voyager. Niall Robinson, vice president of global business development at ADVA, explained that means it will work to provide customers that are interested in putting Voyager in their networks with network management software and support. ADVA has not announced plans to manufacture Voyager, he added, but the company will sell it.

“We don’t really see it as competition,” said Robinson. “For us it opened up a market segment; we don’t have a packet optical box.”

That means if customers are interested in white boxes because they want to get on the open source path, which should lead to the lowest-cost solution, ADVA can offer that, Robinson noted. The Voyager effort at ADVA is a natural extension of the openness the company is encouraging, Robinson continued, noting that it already has been working with partners like Juniper Networks to give customers more choices.

While Infinera (News - Alert) was not mentioned in the Facebook Voyager blog, Mike Capuano, vice president of marketing at the packet optical solution provider, said the company is a member of TIP and a Facebook supplier. While Infinera makes a 1RU box and is the marketshare leader, it could choose to view Voyager as a threat, he added, but the company sees it as an opportunity.

TIP is not completely prescriptive, it just says how many interfaces and how much throughput should be delivered, he explained, and that gives Infinera the opportunity to apply some of its technologies to it in collaboration with Facebook and the other TIP members. For example, Infinera has the Infinite (News - Alert) Capacity Engine, which delivers up to 2.4 terabits. It could apply that engine to a Voyager reference design to provide 1.2 terabits on the line side, he said.

Facebook’s work on Voyager is part of a larger effort by the company to push networking forward through what it calls the Open Compute Project. OCP (News - Alert) was initiated by Facebook because the company couldn’t find in the marketplace the solutions it needed to work at hyperscale, so it started to build the hardware and software solutions it needed itself and in partnership with other companies.

OCP work has included FBOSS, a Linux-based software, and the Wedge top-of-rack data center switches on which it runs. The company introduced FBOSS and Wedge in June of 2014. These two solutions were among the first to separate the hardware and software components while automating and providing better visibility of the network.

Facebook has also written software related to 100G, IPv6, backbone and edge traffic engineering, circuit automation and testing, configuration automation and management, hybrid controllers, network modeling, network analytics and simulation, passive and active monitoring, and traffic shaping. 

Edited by Alicia Young