Editor's Corner—Open source communities and standards bodies are starting to hit their stride

Open source groups and standards bodies are starting work in tandem across the telecom industry. (Pixabay)

Open source communities and standards organizations, are, for the most part, starting to march in unison across the telecom industry.

The push to hybrid networks using network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) initially led to fractured ecosystems as service providers and the legacy vendors pondered how to move to a software, cloud-based world while still serving millions of customers without any noticeable hiccups.

In some cases, carriers took proprietary solutions from single vendors in order to implement some sort of virtualization on their network architectures, which led to vendor lock in. Also, some legacy vendors dug their heels in when it came to losing hardware-based revenue in the new world of SDN and NFV.

While Ericsson, Huawei and Cisco can provide end-to-end integration of services and applications across virtualized, hybrid networks, niche players, such as SD-WAN vendors Silver Peak and Aryaka, have also emerged.

Open source comes of age

Open source communities are more nimble than traditional standards bodies, but most of them needed to go through a maturation process, which was largely driven by service provider members that sat on open source boards.  The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) leans on its service provider members, which include AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, NTT Group and Turk Telecom, to drive its direction. Last week ONF announced new reference designs that it hopes will drive innovation and cohesiveness across the telecom industry.

In a similar vein, after three years of working together, the European Telecommunications Standards Group (ETSI) and Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) collocated their Plugtest and Plugfest, respectively, testing platforms for the first time during a recent event in Sophia Antipolis, France.

RELATED: ETSI, OPNFV team up on interoperability testing during Plugtest and Plugfest events

In the fast-paced world of hybrid networks and virtualization, standards bodies and open source communities have had to increase their pace to keep up with service provider demands.

"We participate in the open source groups, but the challenge that we have there is that I still need to get products to market quickly," said Verizon's Vicki Lonker, vice president, network and security product management, in an interview with FierceTelecom. "Sometimes it's just not as fast to reach agreement on standards and then to have everyone go design to those as it might be to just get it done through some very focused attention by a limited number of groups."

Verizon's Shawn Hakl, senior vice president, business products, was quick to point out that his company is very active in the MEF, which has included a live, two-way intercarrier SDN network orchestration demonstration between Verizon and Colt using MEF's LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) APIs.

"We're huge supporters of the MEF LSO framework that's being done," Hakl said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "This is an aggressive marketplace and there's a lot of energy from our customers around this. So people are going to get the ball rolling. What we do focus on in a lot of the discussions with the standards committees is we want people to specify the interface, the spec and the layout. We don't want people dictating the choice of the particular underlying implementation. It's two very different things.

"I'm probably not going to go dictate to a vendor how the underlying implementation of that response works because that's where their secret sauce comes in. If you dictate that, you get much more contentious discussions because you're expecting essentially everybody to agree on a common implementation, which creates winners and losers unnecessarily."

Collaboration is key

Open source groups have taken note of the need to be more collaborative with each other. The Linux Foundation, MEF and TM Forum previously announced partnerships with each other in order to better coordinate their collective efforts for the good of the industry.  

MEF and TM Forum were contributors to the development of ONAP's second software release, which is called Beijing, earlier this month. For Beijing, ONAP's external API project was incorporated with the TM Forum and MEF's work around northbound APIs while the TM Forum also used its Catalyst proof-of-concept trials to provide feedback to ONAP.

"There are a number of service providers that are buying into this collaborative approach to provide the impetus to the industry to widely adopt these techniques and say 'Look this is what is going to deliver the dynamic behavior we need as service providers to handle all of these new technologies,'" said Ken Dilbeck, vice president of collaboration R&D at TM Forum, said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "We need a much more flexible and dynamic environment."

One of the past criticisms of Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) was that it wasn't market ready. ONAP was formed early last year after the Linux Foundation combined ECOMP, which was developed by AT&T, with OPEN-O. The Linux Foundation Networking Fund (LFN), which includes ONAP, now covers more than 65% of the world’s mobile subscribers.

Open source: Not for everyone

In a recent interview with FierceTelecom, Arpit Joshipura, general manager of networking for the Linux Foundation, highlighted the service providers that were either currently deploying ONAP or working on trials. AT&T, Bell Canada, China Mobile, China Telecom, Orange, Verizon and Vodafone either have ONAP in real world deployments or in proof-of-concept trials.

Century Link, BT and Telefónica are MIA from ONAP's service provider roster. As an early adopter of SDN and NFV, Telefónica has forged its own virtualization path. Telefónica's OpenMANO project became a building block for the  European Telecommunications Standards Group (ETSI) Open Source MANO (OSM) code.

Joshipura said that BT has been looking extensively at ONAP while CenturyLink has used pieces of it even though it's not currently a member.

"I think the members that are currently not part of ONAP, or on the fence, fall in one of two categories," Joshipura said. "They're either very early in the game, or they went on an SDN/NFV journey way before open source was even possible, or before ONAP was possible.

"So there are a lot of carriers, say, in Africa and some in Southeast Asia, that have not completely gone down that route. But then there are others who took the journey in a certain route based on whatever toolsets they had from vendors at the time. They are kind of now waiting for the next cycle, which is really 5G, in the next one or two years where they need to upgrade."

BT's Neil McRae, chief architect, has been down the open source road before. In 1992, he worked at an ISP that ran the entire network based on open source.

"It was very, very hard and required specialized skills." McRae said to FierceTelecom. "Here and now what I’m focused on is: What can I use to serve my customers that gives them the capabilities that add value and delivers what they need and what the operator can make a return on. If that’s open source or otherwise, we don’t have a strong view.

"The open source community is fantastic and has delivered some of the most amazing software in the world and it continues to do so, but there is also some fantastic software that isn’t open source. One thing that may drive more and more operators towards open source is some of the vendor license schemes that don’t drive demand, but in effect contain demand because they don’t focus on value."

In the end, open source communities and standards bodies are only as good as their member contributors. In most cases, this means former competitors, both service providers and vendors, needed to collaborate for the good of the industry as a whole, which has taken some getting used to.

Service providers, vendors, open source groups and standards bodies have come to the realization that the stakes are too high not to work in unison. While the lessons of the past have been painful at times, the telecom industry as a whole is coming together across the various technologies and services. Those that don't swim with that current will find themselves on islands of of their own making. Mike

Editor's Corners are opinion columns written by a member of the Fierce editorial team. They are edited for balance and accuracy.