Irresistible Appeal of Open Source


The telecom industry is racing toward a software-defined networking (SDN) world, but needs to go beyond traditional cooperation on standards to actually sharing software code, in order to keep pace with innovation.

Telecom companies have always cooperated in development of standards. It’s essential for interoperability – otherwise each company’s customers would only be able to interact with its other customers. But there’s a difference between agreeing on standards and sharing software.

“The telecommunications space has conventionally used proprietary hardware and software to deploy solutions from various vendors,” writes RCR Wireless staffer Nathan Cranford. “Using multiple vendors enabled telecom operators to open source some network functions, but not to the extent usually fastened to open source software.” But, he contends, “Open source software is indispensable to a faster, more malleable communications network.”

AT&T hands platform to Linux Foundation

Illustrating the increasing pace of open source acceptance in telecom, AT&T announced in early 2017 that it was handing over its ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) platform to the Linux Foundation for placement into open source. AT&T developed ECOMP to manage and automate virtual network functions (VNFs) in its software-defined networks (SDNs). Linux Foundation subsequently merged ECOMP platform with the Open Orchestrator Project to forge the Open Network Automation Platform Project.

“While ECOMP provides complete automation of the entire lifecycle of a VNF within an SDN environment, it’s simpler to think of ECOMP as the operating system for developers to build network apps around,” wrote Chris Rice, senior vice president of AT&T LabsDomain 2.0 Architecture and Design. “This Linux Foundation project aims to speed developers’ innovation efforts by giving them access to a stable, next-generation software network automation platform.  One that is production ready.”

When even proprietary software legends like Microsoft and IBM embrace open source, AT&T’s move is not without precedence. Still, it’s a major departure from the legacy of Ma Bell. “AT&T is an open-source software company now — I just have to pinch myself,” was how Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin put it in a presentation at the AT&T Developer Summit during CES at the beginning of the year.

But across all areas of technology, vendors have come to the realization the benefits of open source cooperation. Also in RCR Wireless, contributor Dan Meyer observes that “the telecom space has more recently begun to take a more computing view of the open source space, highlighted by growing operator and vendors moves towards deployment plans using cloud, network functions virtualization and software-defined networking technologies.”

Insatiable demand

The demand for virtualization technologies is insatiable, as enterprises have learned they can do more by moving in this direction, than by sticking with stovepipe solutions. “Enterprises often rely on their infrastructure vendors to partner with each other to orchestrate various aspects of the VNF lifecycle in their networks,” wrote Shamus McGillicuddy, senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. “If the Linux Foundation were to adapt ECOMP for enterprise use, it would give enterprises a vendor neutral, open source framework for NFV enablement.”

But it’s not just enterprise customers who benefit. “Harmonizing SDN and NFV technologies benefits all communications industry members,” explained AT&T’s Rice. “It takes unnecessary friction out of the system.  It gives service providers more control of their network services.  It also enables both developers and operators to create effective services at speeds never before possible.”

As the computing industry has found, open source lifts all boats. There’s no reason it shouldn’t have the same impact in telecom services. To learn more about how network services are transforming, read Network infrastructure made simple or go to AT&T FlexWare.