Elastic optical networking is attracting much attention as a promising solution to achieve spectrum-efficient transport of higher data rates at and beyond. If we draw an analogy to virtualization in cloud computing, it can be seen as network level resource virtualization of optical networks where spectrum resources in optical links are segmented as shareable resources and adaptively aggregated to create a wide variety of optical channels (OChs). In this paper, we discuss the benefits of introducing virtualization into the optical domain from the viewpoints of the network level and the hardware level. In elastic optical networks, a frequency slot through which an OCh is transported and the OCh itself are explicitly decoupled. While the adaptability in the frequency slot is brought about by bandwidth variable wavelength-selective switches, the adaptability in an OCh is yielded by digital coherent technology that is employed in transponders and regenerators. It is emphasized that in order to achieve transponders and regenerators that accommodate heterogeneous traffic demands in an economical manner, simply being adaptive is not enough, and being shareable is essential. We refer to this concept as hardware level virtualization. As examples, we describe a multiflow transponder and an elastic regenerator with results that show proof of concept. Based on the hardware virtualization concept, we propose an elastic optical transport system (EOTS) architecture that enables cost- and energy-efficient IP traffic offloading to the optical domain and improves programmability and automation of optical networks.
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