The market for optical networking solutions has undergone some major shifts in the past years. Mid-sized vendors have largely disappeared due to consolidation. Increasing demand for more open and flexible optical networking is driving a revolution in the way network elements are procured. This makes it possible to break free from traditional vendor lock-in, if you know how to choose network elements that play nice with each other. At the same time, timely and accurate support is becoming more important than ever as you manage a disaggregated network and have no time to lose.
1. Who can be a strategic optical networking partner?
With a handful of optical networking vendors to choose from, size is a parameter that matters. If you’re a small regional network operator, can you really count on a gigantic vendor to give you the time of day? Conversely, if you’re a Tier 1 service provider with a huge global network, can you trust a teeny tiny vendor to deliver the performance and reliability you absolutely must have?
In the past, mid-sized vendors were an interesting option for service providers. They were big enough to have a proven track record in the quality of their network elements and small enough to have the flexibility to adjust their development roadmap to meet customer needs. But now mid-sized optical networking vendors are almost non-existent due to intensive market consolidation over the past decade. Nevertheless, it is still possible to find a strategic optical networking partner who will listen to you, take you seriously, and tailor current and future solutions to your needs.
2. Who doesn’t have a vested interest in locking you in?
Traditionally, it was commonplace to purchase all or most of your network elements from one and the same vendor. In many cases, there was simply no viable alternative. But now the flexible networking trend is catching on and more and more network elements are coming to market that are interoperable with those of other vendors. This makes it possible to handpick best-of-breed components, ensuring the most value at the least cost for each part of your network.
As opposed to proprietary line systems where a licensing fee is charged for adding an alien wavelength to a port, building your network with open line systems allows you to break free from these costs and other downsides of vendor lock-in. For instance, you can now purchase a new open line system from one vendor, plug in existing transceivers from another vendor, and purchase a new transponder from a third vendor next year when the need arises.
Although the flexible networking trend is gaining strength, some vendors would still prefer to lock you in – if you don’t proactively request open network elements. The easiest way to avoid vendor lock-in is to choose a vendor with an open optical networking philosophy who has no ulterior motive to get you to buy everything from them.
3. Who can you count on for support for your network elements?
Getting the support you need when you need it should be a given. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The best way to get fast and accurate support for your network elements is if you can speak to the right, knowledgeable person as quickly as possible. Outsourced support can get in the way of that, so look for an optical networking vendor with in-house support that puts you in touch with experts promptly instead of filtering the dialogue through several layers of support.
What about supporting a disaggregated network that mixes network elements from different vendors? How do you know which vendor to call when something is wrong with a network element? Fortunately, the latest network management technology makes it possible to monitor your multi-vendor network architecture in one place and easily track the source of any errors.
4. Who proves they aren’t all talk with satisfied customers?
The previous three parameters are all important, but how do you really know If an optical networking vendor will do right by you? Will they listen to your needs, help you find the solutions with the best value for you, and help you solve any problems quickly and professionally? If a vendor excels at doing all this, then surely their existing customers must be thrilled with them. Try looking for case studies for your specific segment. Or why not ask to see their customer satisfaction metrics, like their Net Promoter Score (NPS), to see for yourself if they put their money where their mouth is?