Windstream gets smart with new ICON optical architecture

Windstream’s wholesale division rolled out a new Intelligent Converged Optical Network (ICON) architecture, using analytics to enable infrastructure disaggregation and deeper customer insights in its transport network.

Art Nichols, Windstream’s VP of network architecture and technology, told Fierce intelligence is at the heart of ICON’s design.

“What we’ve done working with the vendor community with this architectural introduction is we’ve developed some novel things, things like coherent probes that on a real-time basis are generating performance information about how the network is operating and then feeding that up into our own systems, things like machine learning-based predictive analytics,” he said.

In addition to enabling a more reliable, higher performing network, Nichols said this approach has also allowed it to disaggregate its infrastructure by eliminating barriers to planning, engineering and maintenance in a multi-vendor environment. Such tasks previously required single-vendor tools, he said. “You can’t get to a truly disaggregated multi-vendor open environment, in our estimation, without that level of intelligence and analytics being built in,” he added.

These capabilities also benefit customers, he noted, allowing Windstream to expose data both through virtual analytics portals and APIs.

“Increasingly our ICP [internet content provider] customers are desirous of API, so programmable interfaces, to consume that data so that they can pull it into their own operational systems and build it into their workflows and processes internally,” Nichols explained. “It’s really about meeting them in their own business processes and not trying to dictate and overlay a set of methods for how these services are consumed and operated.”

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ICON includes support for C and L band spectrum as well as Flexgrid technology, which Nichols said allows different sized channels to operate on the same line system. Windstream is primarily using the architecture to provide a finished wave service with support ranging from 1 gig to 400 gig, but Nichols added it will also enable the company to offer managed spectrum services to its customer base.

Today, ICON is being used in its long-haul and regional transport networks, with Windstream debuting two new West Coast routes running from the Portland area to Sacramento and Los Angeles to Las Vegas as part of the architecture announcement. The company identified Ciena as its vendor for the new routes. Nichols said these tie back into existing Infinera line systems.

RELATED: Ciena helps Windstream boot-up its new national optical network

But ICON could soon be coming to the edge as well: Nichols noted Windstream is working to apply the same architecture and principles deeper in the network.

“We do see increasing traffic demands at the edge where traffic is being sourced, whether that’s a 5G tower or an edge data center or CDN content growth from broadband subscribers…and a desire to keep as much traffic as possible resident in the edge,” he said. “This architecture is absolutely built from the ground up to accommodate that.”