The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) has shown yet again that it’s not afraid to use operator clout to sway the direction of vendors, nor that it’s afraid of acronyms. The latest evidence comes from its newly created Optical Disaggregated Transport Network (ODTN) project.
The project looks to introduce open source for software control over optical transport networks. It follows similar projects like OpenConfig, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), and the AT&T-led OpenROADM MultiSource Agreement (MSA).
The ODTN project counts 16 founding members, including a lead from five operators: China Unicom, Comcast, NTT Communications, Telefónica, and TIM. Timon Sloane, VP of marketing and ecosystem at ONF, said that the operator support is critical in breaking the typical logjam from the supply chain, noting those operators are “enough of a buying opportunity for vendors.”
“The problem was that the supply chain is not ready to deliver the products. And the supply-chain problem was that operators were all not on the same page,” Sloane explained.
While robust, the operator list is missing some significant names like China Mobile, Vodafone, Orange, Verizon, and AT&T. Sloane defended the list by stating that there were enough present to form the needed influence but without overburdening the process.
“We need to have critical mass, but don’t want to have too many cooks in the kitchen,” Sloane said. “At this point I don’t think we need any more operators to get this moving.”
Some of those other operators were part of a recent ONF effort to generate more influence over the pace of general software innovation from the vendor community. That involved the launch of a strategic plan that included modular reference designs and exemplar platforms.
The ONF found that move was necessary because the traditional telco vendors were not helping operators transform their networks with more software at the pace the operators desire.
“There was hope the established incumbent players would step up,” Sloane said at that time. “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.”
Piece of the Puzzle
The ODTN project is now part of those reference design efforts. The big picture of those plans includes software-defined broadband access, network functions virtualization (NFV) fabric, next-generation software-defined networking (SDN) data plane, software-defined mobile access, and disaggregated optical transport, which is where ODTN fits in.
The ODTN project will focus on breaking apart the network controllers on each end of an open line system (OLS). These controllers have historically been monolithic boxes using proprietary technology.
ODTN will allow operators to use blades from different vendors within those boxes that can control specific OLS channels. That means a single vendor’s equipment will ride on each end of a specific connection, but equipment from different vendors can reside and interoperate within the boxes at each end. Those operators will use the ONF’s ONOS SDN controller to discover and disaggregate components for control of the equipment from the different vendors.
“By breaking down these parts into individual pieces, it makes it easier to build a multi-vendor platform,” Sloane explained. “They can pick the best parts to serve their needs and avoid vendor lock in. They have seen the cloud providers go down this route, and that’s what the operators want.”
Sloane said that the ONF expects to make “multiple significant milestones this year. This is not a multi-year process, not a five-year plan. We have significant traction and this is moving rapidly.”
The ONF efforts are not the first to attempt this feat. The organization itself was upfront about how it was different from the likes of those other efforts.
Marc De Leenheer, member of the technical staff at ONF and lead on the ODTN project, said the ONF project differs by being the only one that is open source.
“The others, in my opinion, are based on standards,” De Leenheer said. “That’s not our intention. We will leverage open standards.”
De Leenheer did note that ODTN would have some overlap with at least the OpenConfig and TIP efforts. This included relying on some of the work from OpenConfig and in turn providing feedback on those efforts, and making sure the ODTN platform works with TIP’s open optical platform.
The one effort that ODTN is least likely to play along with is the AT&T OpenROADM MSA. That initiative is basically aimed at using different vendor blades at each end of an OLS connection as opposed to using the same vendor on each end as ODTN is doing.
“They made a fundamental design choice from the start in that they care about data plane compatibility,” De Leenheer said. “They are looking to disrupt the bookended transponder space. That has certain design and performance implications. Our operators are not wanting this sort of control as their No. 1 feature.”
De Leenheer did add that it could adopt such a plan if that was something its operator members wanted.