Windstream's Nichols, Frane discuss why open source is important

While Windstream is using open source across its networks and service, it's also developing some aspects internally. (Pixabay)

While the road to virtualization has included potholes and bad signage, open source can provide the right roadmap, according to Windstream executives.

Although some service providers are still on the fence when it comes to using open source, Windstream Enterprise's Arthur Nichols, vice president of network architecture and technology, and Mike Frane, vice president of product development and portal, are believers.

Windstream is using open source technologies or applications from OpenStack, ONOS, Kafka, Message Bus and RabbitMQ, to name just a few. It's also a member of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) open source community.

"These are just some of the examples of open source that we could point to that we're trying to take advantage of so that we can help unlock the value and even contribute back into these projects more directly," Nichols said in an interview with FierceTelecom.

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In this Q&A, which was lightly edited for context and length, Nichols and Frane spoke about the role that open source is playing at Windstream as well as how the vendor ecosystem is changing.

FierceTelecom: So in general, what role is open source playing at Windstream?

Arthur Nichols: I'll try to tackle that one. I think open source represents a real opportunity for us. Many of the underlying solutions that we use from our vendors are built on open source. From that perspective, a lot of what we're deploying into the network and supporting on our products and services has open source at its core.

But in addition to that there's just this huge amount of innovation, a wave of innovation, coming from open source. So the question for us is: "How are we able to unlock the value of that open source more directly?" Increasingly, that comes in the form of our own platform development around distributed data centers, edge compute functions and that sort of thing.

We believe open source plays a significant role in our path forward. There's an incredible amount of potential in open source projects like P4 to be hugely transformative for Windstream and carriers like us. We participate very actively in the open source community and we're trying to take advantage of as many open source components as make sense in supporting the services and products for our customers.

FierceTelecom. Do you think the legacy vendors are dragging their feet when it comes to open source communities?

Mike Frane: When it comes to vendors and their move to virtualization, obviously we're seeing traditional hardware vendors becoming what they'll call software vendors. They're moving from the hardware space into the software space. I won't say that they're dragging their feet, but it is new territory for them. They're still trying to figure out their pricing models and their business models when it comes to the hardware and the software.

From a Wall Street valuation, for a hardware company to say that they're a software company, it obviously looks a lot better. But at the same time, just selling the software means that there could be an impact to the top line and the bottom line of that organization. We're still seeing them try to figure out what's bundled versus what's additional. We've seen some go with a complete a la carte type of approach.

Just as an example, there are some vendors out there who will sell you the hardware for $400 and the software for $600, but if you just want to buy the software by itself, it's $900. Their finance teams are still not really ready to let go of that top line revenue, even though they're not providing the hardware. I wouldn't say that they're dragging their feet. I think they're still trying to figure out the right business model and the right way to play in the software space.

It's not just the other technology players that are pushing a lot of the traditional hardware vendors into the software and virtualization space, it's the service providers themselves because they're not moving fast enough. They are not getting the services that the market is asking for into the market fast enough. I think that the pressure from the technology vendors' segment, as well as the pressure from the service providers themselves, is going to be one of the biggest things that pushes the model for change.

We need to do it faster. We need to do it better.

FierceTelecom: What does the telecommunications industry as whole need the most in terms of NFV, SDN and virtualization?

Nichols: I'll speak very specifically for our own aspects. The first thing I think about is common data models first and foremost. How services and devices and functions are modeled across the stack? That tends to be pretty fragmented today. That leads to challenges for everything from topologies to services and how those ultimately get deployed and managed in a virtualized sort of environment.

There are a couple of other areas I would point to. We need go to tools for operational functions, testing, and monitoring, et cetera. It's always a challenge. Just virtualizing something tends to lead to more complexity if you don't have the surrounding ecosystem of operational tools to help manage that new environment.

In terms of one of the things we could use to advance SDN and NFV more holistically, I would point to cloud native. I know it's an overused term, but we could use the cloud native tool sets for containers, DevOps and automation. We could use more of the tool sets that have come from the Web scale folks. We could also move towards adopting more of the ONF-like principles around disaggregation as we think about coupling together SDN and FV more holistically.