Rob Coenen speaks to This Week in Enterprise Tech about optical networking and what this could mean to the enterprise and cloud data center.
Watch the interview hosted by Louis Maresca, Brian Chee, and Curt Franklin.
Lou Maresca: Well this is my favorite part of the show. We get to bring a guest in to drop some knowledge. Today is no exception. Today we have Rob Coenen, VP of InterOptic. Rob, Welcome to the show
Rob Coenen: Oh, Thank you Lou.
Lou Maresca: Our audience, they love to hear origin stories. Can you kind of bring us through the journey of what brought you to InterOptic?
Rob Coenen: Sure, I guess you could say a few years ago I went to the dark side. My background is in electrical engineering, I actually hold a PHD in electrical engineering and design work for quite a few years and then one day I decided I was going to switch over to bizdev and marketing and sales and I am the guy they make fun of on Dilbert.
Lou Maresca: Fantastic, well one thing I do want to ask is that we know a little about InterOptic but maybe you could take us through you know, kind what they are doing and how they are kind of moving industry forward.
we work very one on one with our customers
Rob Coenen: Ok so, InterOptic was founded about 12 years ago by a group of engineers who they just got tired of seeing how expensive OEM optical transceivers were for optical networking and they founded this company and it’s dedicated to giving our customers a second option to just pure OEM optics. So, it’s definitely a huge cost advantage as well as a technical advantage that we work very one on one with our customers so they can choose the best sort of optics they can that work for them. I was just going to say, for people who wonder about that they say “oh third party optics, it wont work when you actually plug it in. You got to do all kinds of special codes and stuff like that. These things are designed so that they work on seamless plug and play. You plug it into a Cisco or Juniper or Arista box and it behaves exactly like an OEM device.
Lou Maresca: So I want to get into that in a minute about coding but I want to ask for a second, are you guys kind of focused on the fortune 500 government institutions that really have the need to manage their bandwidth, their interoperability, the complexity of their networks. How does this kind of help them do that? Is there something special? What’s the secret sauce?
Rob Coenen: So, people ask “what is your value add” I guess our value add is that these devices work exactly like an OEM device so you don’t have to do anything special. They are as reliable as an OEM or even more so device in the fact that we source these devices from the exact same factories as the OEM’s. As you know the OEM’s themselves, they don’t actually make these devices, they are all made by manufacturers like Finisar.
Lou Maresca: You mentioned a little something about this, obviously these devices need to be customized in order to fit well into a particular network especially from the coding perspective. Can you maybe explain what coding is and how it really helps here?
it’s imperative that the coding inside that micro processer or micro controller has the right coding
Rob Coenen: Ok, so these little devices, some people just call them all Gigs but they come in various forms. There are SFP’s and QSFP’s and CFP’s and what have you. They all talk to a switch or router when you plug them in. They are fairly simplistic devices. They have like very small, not too bright micro controllers in them. But none the less, they do communicate with the device you plug them into a Cisco switch or router so it’s imperative that the coding inside that micro processer or micro controller has the right coding in it so that therefore when it gets queried by a switch or a router that switch or router powers the port up and treats it like a real device. Otherwise if you try and plug a Juniper device into a Cisco box for example, it would just shut the port down because it doesn’t recognize it as a legitimate device.
Lou Maresca: Let me ask you really quick before I bring my co-hosts in because they are actually chomping at the bit here because they have some questions. But I do want to ask about cost. So you said obviously these are significantly cheaper savings for the organization when it comes to interoperability and so on. What kind of savings are these organizations having here?
30-70% less expensive than the “discounted OEMs”
Rob Coenen: Anywhere from 30-70% less expensive than the “discounted OEMs” prices.
Lou Maresca: That is pretty impressive. Well I do want to bring in my co-hosts especially Cheeburt because he has some questions about interoperability and some other things. Cheeburt?
Brian Chee: Yeah obviously I am glad to hear that there is some movement on pricing. Cuz I’ll tell you when we did our first 100G link for InterOp in Las Vegas, my 100G Zenpak was $50,000 and it was hand made so I am assuming that’s changed.
Rob Coenen: Yeah prices have come down a lot now, even as recent as last year prices at 100G were still very expensive but as of this year prices have come down significantly as more manufacturing capability has come online. Naturally if you buy it from a third party supplier like ourselves it’s even cheaper.
Brian Chee: Right, well one of my big questions is. Well price is all fine and good but people are running especially ingress and egress ports for data centers. People are wanting more capabilities like Cisco started making a big deal about including OTDR capabilities into the SFP+’s. Are you seeing that as a standard feature now across the industry?
Rob Coenen: That has never really picked up all that much. People like the idea of having it but quite frankly nobody wants to pay for the cost. It’s like one of those features that you would use once when you plug it in and then probably never activate it again because if the link is up and running then you kind of don’t care how it’s working and yeah its one of those things that we’ve seen it more in like more specialized applications. We’ve had and little bit of call for that from say some military customers, stuff like that, people who are in a little rougher environment. But, for your standard data center, we get very little call for it.
Brian Chee: Well lets go and ask a little bit more about top of rack and I am seeing a lot more white box applications and I am actually starting to see like FS.com, Dell and some others where you can actually have a Linux on your switch. Are these people driving some of those new features? Are they driving the need for lower cost optics?
we are seeing a lot of demand for white box compatible devices from our customers.
Rob Coenen: Oh, yeah certainly yeah. In the beginning white Box was merely for telcoms and stuff like that you know, the likes of Facebook the hyper scale data center customers but now white Box is being deployed by a whole range of parties that are interested in saving cost and having the flexibility that comes with Whitebox. So, we are seeing a lot of demand for white box compatible devices from our customers.
Brian Chee: One of the other things I am curious about is GPON’s. We are starting to see more fiber from the curb to a home but they are a single strand. Is that actually starting to become an industry standard enough that I can buy third party optics for that kind of thing?
Rob Coenen: I haven’t seen third party GPONS. They are very specialized devices and they tend to be purchased in such high quantities that there is already a lot of price pressure on those in that sense if you’re someone like the size of Verizon or something like that. You’re going to try harder to go directly to the manufacturer to get the lowest possible price and then you will just deal with whatever fall out counts from taking that sort of approach. But I think we will start to see third party at some point.
Brian Chee: Ok and just so the people listening to this on download while they are driving. A GPON is basically a version of an SFP that goes over a single strand of fiber and you hit literally optical splitters. I am actually using one now. I have got an 8 way splitter and It’s got so much juice on it that I actually have to put continuators on it and I hit these little devices that are kind of like cable boxes but it’s got a single strand of fiber going in and GPONS I think are something that our users and viewers are going to start seeing especially because of manufactures are making some really cool new fiber packages for retro fitting older buildings. These people are actually gluing them into the tops of ceilings and hallways and boring them into rooms to provide high speed internet to some smaller apartment buildings like walkups. Anyways, hey Lou, I am running off at the mouth. I think it’s time to hand it back to you.
Lou Maresca: I do want to ask really quick what are some of the biggest challenges that InterOptic is running In to today?
People worry that their warranty will be invalid which isn’t true.
Rob Coenen: It’s have kind of the same challenge that we’ve always had, it takes a long time to convince customers quite frankly that its safe and ok to use third party optics. That has always been the hardest part of my job. People worry that their warranty will be invalid which isn’t true. In fact there is actually a law in the United States that specifically states that companies can’t invalidate their warranties for using third party devices. Another problem is that people are worried that their support contract won’t work anymore if they use a third party and sometimes they will get kind of some sort of low-level threats from their maintenance supplier that “Oh yeah, we won’t support third party optics.” Chances are pretty good when you tend to have a problem with a link most data centers will just go swap the optics before asking SmartNet or anybody else for any kind of help just to see if that solves the problem which 9 times out of 10 it will. These quality devices last an extremely long time 7, 10, even 20 years. But, if you have enough of them deployed you work the numbers and some of them are going to die on you. So that tends to be the biggest challenge is that people worry about support and that’s something we have to talk people through every day.
Lou Maresca: Makes sense. I do want to bring Curt in because I want to bring his perspective on the enterprise market.
Curt Franklin: Well I want to hit that support question just one more time. When you are talking companies through this, it seems like with the additional functionality that you are talking about, some of these start to straddle lines between layers one and two on the stag. Is that a perception that you have to work with your customers on and explain things? Is that part of the concern set that they come to you with?
we step by step go through with process with the customers
Rob Coenen: A little bit yeah. We definitely have customers who come to us worried about how these devices will work in their systems, which devices they should be using whether or not if they go to third party should they be using QSFP’s instead of SFP’s, or what have you, or multi-mode over single mode and that is sort of the thing. So yeah, we step by step go through with the process with the customers and finding out what it is that they are deploying and what are their needs and requirements for their network. Not just today, but looking down the road. Say they are looking to deploy if they have a very old network, 1G. Ok they want to upgrade to 10G today maybe but looking down the road you might want to go to 40G or 100G or 400G you know, it seems like the bandwidth requirements never goes down. We advise our customer if you are doing a green field deployment today, what sort of fibers should you be putting in should you be sticking with multi-mode fiber or should you be looking for single mode fiber. That sort of thing. And, you know there are so many different varieties. In the old days the 10G was short reach, long reach and that was it. Now at a 100G there is like this explosion of different distances. 30 meters, 100 meters, 500 meters, 2KM, 10KM, like with each one those distances you have different options to choose from.
Curt Franklin: Ya know, I am glad you brought that up because I remember a time probably 10 or 15 years ago when the assumption was that by now networking would be all optical, all the way to the desktop everything would be fiber. And yet when I talk to people in the physical networking business, they often talk about being surprised at how many gig or even 100M they are still pulling and of course those are copper and they there are companies pulling 10G copper so one of my questions is, when you talk to your customers are you seeing a lots of this horizontal networking happening via fiber or is fiber still something that is primarily going on inside data centers and between data centers?
Anything that is between buildings now a days is going to be fiber
Rob Coenen: Oh, for sure. Anything that is between buildings now a days is going to be fiber and typically up in the trays is all going to be fiber as well. Within a rack copper still rules supreme. I mean even at a 100G you can go a couple of meters on copper which is more than enough to get you to your server, to your mid rack switch, or to your top of rack switch or what have you. Anything further than that, if you are trying to get from one rack to the next rack over, you might be able to do it with copper but yeah once it leaves the rack people have been going with optical at least with data rates like 10G and higher. Yeah it used to be that you could run Cat 6, Cat 5 or Cat 6 all over all over the place and that would be just fine. But it’s just not feasible anymore once you start looking at 25BG and 100G.
Lou Maresca: Makes sense. I want to have you look into your crystal ball for a second and maybe tell me how 5G is becoming kind of a big thing, IoT is obviously coming on hard here strong fairly certainly the last couple of years. How is this going to change the landscape especially for optical networks?
It will be interesting to see if people get rid of their wired internet all together and rely entirely on 5G.
Rob Coenen: That is a great question. It’s kind of hard to see that. The future is murky on that one. Some people think that 5G will take the place of things like GPON. I mean if you can have a few G’s coming into your house wirelessly, why would you bother with a cable box and why would you bother paying Century Link when you could get it wirelessly from AT&T. It will be interesting to see where that goes. Like how much of a switch people will start doing and start unplugging, kind of like in the trend where people unplugged their landlines and got rid of their cable packages now they just stream everything. It will be interesting to see if people get rid of their wired internet all together and rely entirely on 5G.
Brian Chee: Ok, let’s keep going and digging into that crystal ball. What kinds of advice would you give people when they start planning on, ok I’ve got year end money or I’ve got quarter end money, whatever, I need to try and future proof my racks and my data centers. Do you have any good suggestions on best practices that can do something like that?
Rob Coenen: One thing is if you’re just staying within a rack, it’s a trade off. If you wire up a rack with copper, you know that when you go to upgrade it from 10G to 25G or to 40G, you’re just going to have to throw whatever you put in there away. As opposed to optical where the fiber doesn’t change whether it’s 1G, 10G, or 100G, you’re probably still just using the same kind of single mode or even multi-mode fiber for these short sorts of distances. That’s why people tend to plumb everything up in their trays with fiber because they don’t want to have to throw everything in their trays away every single time they go and upgrade. But, within a rack you are looking for lowest cost. There’s a lot of connections to deal with so people are still going to be deploying coaxial copper, despite the fact that when they go to upgrade they will just need to toss it and get new copper.
Brian Chee Ok, let me ask that question slightly different then. If I have a fairly large data center and I need to have some central patching and things like that, and I know my data centers are probably going to be changing over time. Should I consider going to things like ribbonized MPO cables between my racks and have breakouts? Should I actually make the investments now while the industry is changing or do you think price pressures on fiber and optics and things like that are going to drop enough that I should wait?
the multi fiber solutions are much much cheaper in terms of the optics
Rob Coenen: Yeah, if you are plumbing new fiber, look to MPO’s. You know the multi ribbon fiber is definitely the way to go at 40G and 100G and 400G, the multi fiber solutions are much much cheaper in terms of the optics you have to connect at each end. It is a fantastic way to save on cost and future proof yourself. So, say you only ran a single pair between two points, the optics you are going to have to buy for each end of that are going to be a lot more costly than the optics you would use that use 4 fibers at a time. Maybe it cost you a little bit more to plumb it with those extra fibers, but you would save a lot not just at one node say at 4G but it’s its going to save you at 100G, and it’s going to save you at 400G. So, it’s definitely worth while to plumb those extra fibers and MPO connectors, if handled correctly, and kept clean and all that, they are just as robust and just as good as the older, well more standard LC connectors.
Lou Maresca: Well we have been talking with Rob Coenen from InterOptic. Rob, thank you so much for being here. This has been some super great information. But unfortunately, we are running a little low on time but before we close up I did want to give you the chance to tell the folks at home where thy van go to find a little bit more information about this about InterOptic, where they can go to get started and some more information.
Rob Coenen: They can just go to our website at InterOptic.com or feel free to reach out to me directly on LinkedIn, Robert Coenen.