Industry Voices—Doyle: The promise of open source and the current state of telecom adoption

Communications service providers and their network equipment providers have more work to do in regard to making open source more beneficial. (Pixabay)

The adoption of open source software for NFV deployments by CSPs has largely failed to live up to industry expectations. 

Open source software has been installed in communication service providers' IT departments, some tactical parts of the network and is being widely tested in the labs of the leading CSPs. Despite the hype around “cloud-native” advancements, open source is unlikely to “bend the cost curve” of deploying new network elements – at least not in the next several years.

Status of open source in enterprise and cloud applications

Open source software is widely deployed in leading cloud service providers (SPs) such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and other cloud service providers with the resources to customize and maintain open source code. Smaller SPs with new business models, such as software-as-a-service, who recently built their IT and cloud infrastructure are also adopting open source. Leading enterprise IT departments are also migrating slowly to open source for new applications, such as OpenStack. Red Hat has built a $3 billion business on providing support for open source software.

Advantages of open source for telecom applications

Many open source proponents and standards organizations cite the benefits of the development community commonly working on open source software.  C-level executives at large CSPs are more business-minded in their evaluation of open source software. They hope that the increased use of open source for network/telecom applications can both accelerate innovation —for example,  vCPE and vRAN—and help to reduce network infrastructure costs (CAPEX and OPEX).  Reducing vendor lock-in for their network infrastructure is another potential benefit.

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Challenges of open source for telecom applications

The business case for widespread adoption of open source software in leading CSPs remains challenging. Deploying open source requires CSPs to innovate new ways of building and supporting their network infrastructure. Any new projects at any scale must be integrated with the traditional CSPs' network and backoffice systems.

Dozens of conflicting open source and NFV standards bodies continue to confound CSPs, network equipment providers (NEPs) and IT suppliers searching for a blueprint or common architecture to support. Since CSPs continue to rely on the large NEPs (Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and Cisco) for the vast majority of their network infrastructure (and related support services), the questions remain as to who helps CSPs adopt and maintain open source deployments.

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Examples of CSPs' open source deployments

CSPs have deployed open source in selected pockets of their network infrastructure. OpenStack is often used as a platform for NFV developments. CSPs have also deployed a variety of SDN controllers, including Open Daylight (ODL.) 

The most prominent open source project in the telecom industry is the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP.) ONAP provides millions of lines of open source code to address the management, orchestration, and automation (MANO) aspects of NFV.  A number leading CSPs, including AT&T and Bell Canada, are working to customize ONAP for use in their backoffice (OSS/BSS) platforms. CSPs are evaluating open source code for use in edge routing, ADCs and virtual RAN, among others.

Recommendations for CSPs

Cloud service providers have demonstrated the benefits of open source software deployment, including rapid innovation and lower costs of development. The adoption of open source is still in its early stages in the telecom industry. Leading CSPs are evaluating the potential use cases and benefits for open source software deployments. Extensive open source deployment will require CSPs (and their associated NEP suppliers) to adopt a new business relationship. And much work remains to work out the details of this new economic relationship.

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, providing client-focused targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks. He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was group VP for network, telecom, and security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @leedoyle_dc.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.