SAN FRANCISCO – If you want to get AT&T’s attention, you better be ready to speak open source.
That was the message from a panel discussion at this week’s AT&T Spark event in San Francisco, where Amy Wheelus, vice president of Network Cloud at the carrier, explained that AT&T was an “open source-first shop.” She said it had to go down the route of open source software in order to meet its growing software needs.
“We don’t want to carry the technical debt,” Wheelus said, noting that the carrier’s involvement with the open source ecosystem is not something she expected to have even started. “If you asked me five years ago if I would be talking about open source I would have said you were crazy,” she added.
AT&T’s embrace of the open source community was echoed by Wheelus’ colleague Catherine Lefèvre, associate vice president for Network Cloud and infrastructure at AT&T Labs, who said the carrier’s work with that ecosystem is very collaborative. AT&T has been central to a number of telecom-focused open source projects housed with the Linux Foundation, including the Open Network Automation Project (ONAP), the Akraino Edge Stack project, and the Acumos artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning platform.
“It’s not just thinking about yourself, but what needs to be developed beyond just your own needs,” Lefèvre said of working in the open source community.
Speed and Agility
Wheelus said the overall move toward open source software control of its network was to “drive more speed and respond to the world at the speed of software” and not be “captive to the speed of hardware cycles that have lagged.” However, she said that innovation in the space is still somewhat demarcated between vendors that come from a software-first world and those that have a history in hardware.
“If I am creating a network function like a firewall, I don’t need eight different versions of firewalls from eight different vendors. I need one version that is containerized and modular that I can then drive model or declarative configuration to for however long I want to use it,” Wheelus said. “That’s where we need to drive the software into the telecom world.”
As part of a panel discussion tied to the open source topic, Arpit Joshipura, general manager for networking and orchestration at the Linux Foundation, said that while this new operating model is a big change for legacy telecom vendors, he also sees an opportunity in this upheaval for those traditional vendors to oversee actual deployments.
“There is an opportunity in the open source world for those traditional vendors to be systems integrators,” Joshipura said. He explained that those vendors have a long history of knowing exactly what telecom operators and networks need in terms of support and could lead in making “those open source projects more distributed and hardened for telecom.”
From left, Stephen Nellis, tech reporter at Reuters; Amy Wheelus, vice president Network Cloud at AT&T; Arpit Joshipura, general manager for networking and orchestration at the Linux Foundation; Jeff McAffer, director for Microsoft’s Open Source Programs Office; and Catherine Lefèvre, associate vice president for Network Cloud and Infrastructure at AT&T, discuss open source software during a panel at the AT&T Spark event in San Francisco.