SHENZHEN, China — My China trip is winding down after three days of analyst sessions, company meetings, tasty buffets, and a campus visit with Huawei. Washington, Silicon Valley, and my dietician may not be proud of me, but one thing is clear: Huawei has overarching global ambitions, especially in the realms of software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and open source.
It’s important to get the picture of Huawei from inside China, as much of what you hear in America is one-sided – just as the view of Cisco from Beijing might be similarly slanted. As one American Huawei executive pointed out to me, the U.S. view of his employer is of a ruthless, mercantilist company. But despite Huawei’s political challenges in the West, the company appears to be maturing beyond its earlier copycat years and building intellectual property, gaining share in large segments of the global technology market, and beginning to use open source as a strategic weapon.
According to one of Huawei’s R&D directors, the company has received a total of 50,377 patent grants worldwide, including 39 related to SDN. The visitor center demonstrates the range of markets it occupies, with a portfolio of products stretching from ultra-broadband to consumer handsets to data center infrastructure.
Open source will be the next large battle in the communications industry. It’s the Internet Protocol of the 20-teens. No longer will you brag about how many names you have on an IETF RFC, but instead about how many lines of code you have submitted to open source projects.
This week, Huawei was focused on such bragging rights. Alan Clark, chairman of OpenStack, pointed out that the Chinese company is currently the largest contributor to OpenStack at 28 percent of all contributions. (Mirantis was second, at 24 percent.)
Open source projects, such as the carrier-class controller project ONOS and orchestration project Open-O, also figure prominently in the company’s endeavors. Ayush Sharma, Huawei’s senior vice president and CTO of networks, says that Huawei has contributed 20 percent of the code on ONOS. He also pointed to China Unicom’s deployment of ONOS.
Huawei has said it will invest more than US$30 million in Open-O. “We have heavily invested in open orchestration as we can increase the value of open source software,” said Huawei’s Mike McBride, senior director of innovation and technology strategy. “There are a lot of resources behind this to make this successful, and it will be successful.”
These efforts were described with fervor and passion. Huawei sees open source as the next land grab. Do other networking companies see things similarly? And if they don’t, are they wrong?
The knee-jerk reaction to open source is… well, it’s free. But it’s not that simple. Companies can craft strategic open source projects that complement and enhance and build momentum behind its own products. Huawei has been clear that this is part of its strategy.
Several customers have embraced that view, including Vodafone’s David Amzallag, group head of network virtualization, SDN, and NFV. Amzallag detailed plans for a large SD-WAN that includes Huawei and other technology vendors in what appears to be one of the most significant SD-WAN RFPs to date.
Later I was given a tour of Huawei’s sprawling campus, which was filled with lush tropical landscaping and dynamic architecture (unlike Silicon Valley’s bland blocks of buildings). There was also a long chain of R&D labs and employee canteens with tasty food.
Yes, the food: close to this analyst’s heart. The employee outposts served healthy buffets of Western and Asian food, including sushi bars and an endless array of dumplings (it’s not free – a local employee told me the all-you-can-eat buffet is about $18 and not something employees pay for every day).
The cornucopia of the Chinese Buffet – it’s like the endless repositories of open source code. Fill up your plate with as much as you can, in many different combinations.
Leaving this three-day conference, I was left with the impression that Huawei considers the American blockade, right or wrong, as a mere inconvenience. The company is already larger than many of its rivals in networking and enterprise technology, with $60 billion in revenue and now aiming for $100 billion. In the service provider market, it’s got top-tier clients all over the world including Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, Vodafone, and China Unicom.
Huawei is not going away. Its rivals are going to have to take a close look at its army of open source coders that have been enlisted for the next push forward. The open source buffet is going to be hard to beat.
[Note: In line with industry conventions, Raynovich was paid to attend Huawei’s annual analyst meeting this week in Shenzhen. He also clearly ate a lot of the provided food. You may register your complaints directly against his stomach.]