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NFV 'Inception' Meeting Highlights Tectonic Shift in Telecom

Ray Le Maistre

News that a key group of communications networking technology developers met in Silicon Valley this week to take the planned development of an open source NFV platform to the next level is not only interesting in itself, but highlights some of the key shifts underway in the telecom sector. (See Exclusive: Leaked 'Inception' Document Fleshes Out Open-Source NFV Plans.)

Open source: This is the current runaway train of the telecom sector -- and runaway trains make people nervous. They can also crash. The operators want open source technology at the heart of their next generation networks, and they're not taking no for an answer. Pretenders (those that talk the open source talk, but are actually failing to deliver) will soon be found out, and likely outed. Technology suppliers and developers that aren't truly embracing the open source movement look increasingly like they will be sidelined. And you can't get much more different from the traditional telecom model than that. (See Open NFV: The World Cup of Confusion?, Analyst Unveils Open Source Model for NFV-SDN Management, and 6 Degrees of Separation: SPs Define 'Open'.)

Independent action: This is linked to the open source trend, but fuelled by the relative success enjoyed by the network operators that set up and steered the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specifications Group (ISG). Operators and frustrated vendors are taking developments into their own hands and bypassing what would normally be the "regular" or "normal" channels of the standards bodies or industry associations such as Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and TM Forum . The result is that developments happen more quickly, but potential industry fragmentation is a real possibility, unless the open source movement can provide cohesion.

Collaboration: This is now happening on an unprecedented scale. The industry is faced with a new challenge -- blending traditional telecom know-how with sometimes intimidating IT-fuelled developments, including NFV and SDN. As a result, operators and vendors alike are having to look outside their own four walls for help, developing new ecosystems and collaborative groups. Those that engage will thrive. Those that decline to get involved, or undermine such developments, face a bleak future. (See Let's Federate Our NFV Labs – Telefónica and Brocade Unveils Open Carrier Platform for SDN, NFV, AT&T Spotlights Early SDN Efforts, Procera Joins Alcatel-Lucent's CloudBand Ecosystem and Pica8 Enters Cyan's Blue Orbit.)

Breaking down of barriers: Fixed line, cellular, and cable may have different legacies, but they are increasingly coming together, bonded by common challenges and common technology strategies. Just look at the "inception meeting" -- hosted by CableLabs ! Not an organization that would normally be partying with the telecom crew, but now that it has former BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) NFV expert Don Clarke on board, the barriers between cable and telecom are likely to be broken down further. (See BT’s NFV Guru Joins CableLabs.)

These changes are seismic and are causing unrest. They are also unleashing innovation, excitement, and when brought together, becoming the catalyst for change in a traditionally moribund industry.

Hold on tight, folks -- this is going to be a long and bumpy ride.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/3/2014 | 12:38:59 PM
Deja vu all over again
It's been fascinating watching carriers paralleling the changes we saw previously in IT. But I can't recall anything like ETSI NFV in IT, where big companies band together to dictate strategy to vendors.

As for the convergence of landline, mobile, and cable -- these days they're all just in the broadband business. Voice and TV are increasingly becoming legacy businesses.
User Rank: Light Beer
7/2/2014 | 5:50:46 PM
Re: Consistent with what we see
Your observations taken in concert with Carol's earlier article 6 Degree of Separation: SPs Define Open is consistent with the message we are hearing from our members.  They want a dynamic, flexible, interoperable service enabling ecosystem. Open is a technique/technology to help realize that but if one concentrates on "open source" software" as the goal I  think they are missing the true intent. Open source like virtualization, is a technology SP are exploiting to take more control of their service environments.


TM Forum catalyst have definitely seen an uptake in the use of open source solutions, including those for management,  and strong interest from the SP in the pragmatic results of those efforts. I think the urgency being expressed by the SPs is the major shift here. Folks should not underestimate the momtenum behind this thinking.
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/2/2014 | 2:53:19 PM
willingness to change
Earler, we noted that telcos have a different view of open source software than you would have expected several years ago. They're definitely open to change if it helps their networks evolve enough to automate certain functions and create services more quickly.
User Rank: Blogger
7/2/2014 | 2:41:21 PM
Re: Commentary is spot on
Why don't you take JUly 4 as a day off.... as a gift from this Brit.
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/2/2014 | 2:21:59 PM
Conflicting interests
I would guess that the disenchantment with quasi-standards groups like MEF has a lot to do with the perception that these groups are more about building their franchises than about getting standards worked out. That may be a bit unfair, but it's a strong perception nonetheless. In contrast, a group like IETF stuck to its mission.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
7/2/2014 | 2:11:32 PM
Commentary is spot on
And I'm not just saying this because you're my boss This nails it- the upside and downside of the major trends that are out there, truly shaking up the industry. 

I think we sometimes glibly chat about potential shifts such as the move to open source, forgetting that it has ramifications way beyond what we might imagine at a given moment, including some serious dangers. 

And the colloboration trend is well-cited as well. Good job, Ray.

Any chance I can get the rest of the day off?
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
7/2/2014 | 2:11:20 PM
Commentary is spot on
And I'm not just saying this because you're my boss This nails it- the upside and downside of the major trends that are out there, truly shaking up the industry. 

I think we sometimes glibly chat about potential shifts such as the move to open source, forgetting that it has ramifications way beyond what we might imagine at a given moment, including some serious dangers. 

And the colloboration trend is well-cited as well. Good job, Ray.

Any chance I can get the rest of the day off?
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