The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) wants to help its operator board members advance their network virtualization efforts and give a kick in the pants to vendors that aren’t stepping up.
Today, the ONF announced a new strategic plan jointly developed and unanimously approved by its operator board members. These members are: AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Group, Telefόnica, and Turk Telekom.
The strategic plan is necessary because the traditional telco vendors are not helping these operators transform their networks with more software at the pace the operators desire.
“There was hope the established incumbent players would step up,” said Timon Sloane, VP of marketing with the ONF. “To be honest, it’s not happening as fast as the operators want, and we’re not seeing the level of investment. The operators concluded that the right supply chain is not there to deliver. We need supply chain players that are 100 percent aligned and enthusiastic. We are intentionally going out to re-align the supply chain players to make sure we all have the same vision.”
The new ONF strategic plan includes modular reference designs and exemplar platforms.
Reference designs combine component projects into production platforms. The components can come from across the industry and are not limited to ONF projects. For example, the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), while not an ONF project, is a component that could be used. Each reference design will be championed by a select group of operators and will be designed with participation by invited supply chain partners.
Each reference design is to serve as a blueprint for the industry, backed by specific operator interest. Operators are currently considering a few areas of focus, including: fixed and mobile broadband access; leaf-spine data center fabrics; multi-access edge computing (MEC); 5G solutions at the edge; and a continued push for software-defined networking (SDN).
“The reference designs are key to moving the needle here,” said Sloane. “The operators are committing significant resources to make this happen. And operators will procure based on these designs.”
The second part of the ONF’s strategic plan includes exemplar platforms, which are actual implementations of a reference design. Each exemplar platform will create an instantiation of a reference design that can be trialed and then customized by operators as they build systems to suit their particular needs.
Giving vendors a push and an incentive is a big part of this new strategic plan.
Telefόnica, which is one of the ONF operator board members, had already expressed its discontent with vendors that it felt weren’t helping it enough in relation to its implementation of OpenStack. The Spanish telco worked with the research firm Analysys Mason to publish a white paper that spells out the work of its Unica virtualization project. The white paper also spelled out Telefόnica’s gripes with vendors not advancing their technology fast enough for Unica.
In today’s news, the ONF and its operator members has even gone so far as to list some of the existing companies in the supply chain. (See slide below.) “We have not seen quite the level of enthusiastic participation,” said Sloane. “Even the companies on this list. Collectively we’ve not seen the level we hoped. This plan is a recognition of that and an effort to break through what feels like a bit of inertia. We’re not going to wait passively and hope it corrects itself.”
Perhaps existing vendors are dragging their feet because their business models show that products based on open source code won’t have the same margins as their traditional proprietary products.
But Sloane said open source has never been about free software. It’s been about communities coming together to create the best software and then having vendors commercialize it for profit. “Think of it as a Red Hat of this space,” he said. “When doing big deployments, it’s worth buying it from a company that’s commercializing it for you. It was always envisioned that there would be companies that would commercialize.”
And according to today’s ONF announcement, the operators leading the ONF are committed to showing a path forward and a road to revenue for companies that step up to play an active role in this new open source era.
The ONF operator board members plan to use the new reference designs to issue their request for proposals (RFPs). “The reference designs let operators align around a small set of things that are well articulated,” said Sloane. “It’s very clear to the industry: if you build this you are aligned with what the operators want to buy.”
“Operators’ commitment to take open source solutions into production represents the next big step in realizing the full potential of software-defined, disaggregation, and open source,” said Guru Parulkar, executive director for the ONF, in a statement. “It is also heartening to see operators’ determination to enable a new supply chain that is well aligned with their goals.”