Calient announced a significant new partnership with start-up Packetcounter at OFC. Calient was one of the original optical matrix switch vendors, producing 3D MEMS-based switches since 1999.
Its current product, announced two years ago and shipping in volume since last year, is aimed at the large data center market. Packetcounter is brand new, but its software is not. Its product is directly based on years of implementation that its founders Nathan Farrington and Nelson Huang did in Professor George Papen’s fiber-optic research group at UCSD prior to their stints at Facebook and Cisco respectively.
The marriage of these two technologies is much more significant than adding a layer of network management. The software piece is what enables the optical switch finally to be able to compete as a real switch.
The term “switch” can mean many things. Frankly, an optical switch without the right software is closer to a wall-plate light switch (no pun intended) than an Ethernet switch. Its function is simply to set connections from input to output without any of the intelligence to determine what those connections should be. It does exactly the same thing that an electrical crosspoint switch does except it can support much higher data rates. (For example, Mindspeed’s M21605 is a 160×160 matrix that goes up to 12.5Gbps per line.)
Calient and Packetcounter propose a hybrid data center network architecture. The controller monitors the network, looking for any sustained traffic demand between two points. Even if this is a result of demand from multiple flows, the controller modifies the Ethernet routing to arrange for all that traffic to go via a semi-permanent connection on the optical matrix instead of having the Ethernet switch repeatedly set up the connection.
This approach is analogous to creating a limited access highway without stop lights. The surface roads still exist, and depending on where you need to go that might be the best choice. But as a driver, I’m sure glad to have the highway option when I need it.