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Open Source an 'Overrated Necessity,' Says PCCW

Iain Morris

NICE, France -- TM Forum Live -- If open source has swiftly become the latest religious practise in the telecom industry, it is still attracting its share of skeptics and unbelievers.

Some were on display at this week's annual TM Forum Live conference in Nice, where Shahar Steiff, an assistant vice president at Hong Kong's PCCW, described open source as an "overrated necessity" in front of conference attendees.

Steiff clearly thinks open source has its place in the pantheon of technology deities, but he is not convinced that worshipping it unreservedly will provide answers to all the industry's needs.

"It only provides half of the things we need -- the code but not the information model or standards," said the PCCW Ltd. (NYSE: PCW; Hong Kong: 0008) executive. "Yes, it is faster than proprietary code, but with a standard I don't care if it is open source or proprietary code."

Steiff went on to say that open source would not replace the need for standards and expressed doubt that it would give rise to new standards.

He also poured scorn on suggestions that open source is really "free," likening it to the gift of a puppy whose maintenance turns out to be a very costly business.

"It is free but you have to spend a lot of money to implement it in your system," he said.

Steiff was not the only telco executive at the event harboring doubts about open source's promise.

Kayo Ito, the director of network services for Japan's NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT), noted the attractions of open source technology while echoing Steiff's concerns about its shortcomings from a standardization perspective.

"Time to market is what you are looking for because there are cases where you want a quick fix," she said. "But when we are looking at standards, I am not sure it will always be the best way forward."

Other telcos at the conference, however, emphasized the benefits of open source approaches, arguing the principles of open source could be applied in other areas besides coding.

"There is a lot of 'how to' in the OSS [operational support systems] that would be interesting for the industry to share," said AT&T's Jenny Huang. "The OSS layer will become much more data-driven and toolkits will be required, and those are prime candidates for open source implementation."

For more NFV-related coverage and insights, check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.

AT&T is leading the charge on open source, having released its ECOMP software platform into the open source community through the Linux Foundation.

Having recently been merged with another open source telco initiative called OPEN-O, ECOMP is now a part of an association called ONAP that counts France's Orange (NYSE: FTE), BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) (NYSE/Toronto: BCE) and China's three national operators as key service provider members.

But even AT&T has concerns that open source will be unable to provide the same "quality, performance and reliability" as proprietary technologies, said Rupesh Chokshi, an assistant vice president with AT&T, during a conversation with Light Reading last week. (See AT&T Wavers on OpenStack Commitment.)

Speaking with Light Reading on the sidelines of today's event, Mike Zeto, who heads up AT&T's smart cities work, said "there are areas where you want things to be more proprietary that not."

That includes security, which is clearly of paramount concern to authorities making investments in smart city technologies, said Zeto.

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
5/17/2017 | 9:06:55 AM
Missing the point
Assuming that the quotes in the article are not out of context, there are some important things to consider when we talk about open source and free software.

It is insufficient to say that you are using FOSS in your organization. It is more important to say that you are using commercially supported FOSS in your organization. And as an added bonus, you are also adopting Inner Source within as well and for extra bonus, working upstream.

The development of standards is always an interesting thing. If we had left the entire networking standards development to the ITU-T and ISO, we will NOT be having the Internet we know today. Why did the Internet happen and not whatever that the ITU-T and ISO were doing? The answer is working code. This answer is IETF. The answer is open collaboration. The answer is engineers coming together to fix things collaboratively and openly. The answer is "leave the suits behind".

The IETF model of standards development ensures that whatever that is being proposed has working code, independent implementations and interoperability taken care of *before* it becomes a standard. The world of the telcos have been doggedly slow in standards development *because* they have been done by the likes of ITU-T/ISO and other committee based, no-code SDOs. How can one innovate just by words? Show me the code. Make the code work and if that is what it is (if not, send me the patches), let's then turn it in to a standard. 

Harish Pillay, Singapore

Disclosure: I work for Red Hat and 100% open source code and community collaboration is our DNA.
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/15/2017 | 1:26:42 PM
Re: Opinions All Over the Map
I agree worshipping open source is not the right way forward. Open and closed systems working in tandem I think is a more distinct reality. Organizations will use the platforms that best set them up for success. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
5/15/2017 | 9:25:30 AM
Re: Opinions All Over the Map


Why how shocking that consulting is exactly how people make money off of Open Source?

But you are correct.  You can get mediocre performance and middling functionality out of an OS project without much effort.  But pushed towards the edges in any direction requires some form on deep understanding of a project.

One of the advantages of becoming deep with an OS project is that you will end up contributing code.  That will have the effect that the project remains active.  There are plenty of projects that were last active in 2009.

If your an SP and expect OS to be an off-the-shelf piece of software, then you better not push it too far.   That means as a business model should you choose ORacle or Postgres (as an example) has to do with how you plan to spend your money.  If you are going to build a single Database with 1M records, you can use MySQL.  Now get distributed with transactional integrity with Trillions of records, and you have to make much more difficult choices.


User Rank: Light Sabre
5/15/2017 | 8:58:55 AM
Re: Opinions All Over the Map
Open source is kind of like DIY home improvement. The deeper you get into a project, the more you realize how complicated things are, and why you may have been better off contracting out to professionals.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
5/15/2017 | 7:47:43 AM
Opinions All Over the Map
I think this summarizes what we hear in general about open source, with one major gap: the lack of a vendor business plan for making open source profitable. But maybe the network operators aren't concerned about that? They should be. 

There seems to be general agreement that open source generates faster innovation and moves things forward at a pace standards can't match. But even the Linux Foundation folks have repeatedly said there still needs to be standards and that the industry will have to figure out how to knit together the work from open source groups and the major standards efforts. 

I guess the question is how, and how quickly that happens. If it's a slow process, then proprietary options start to look awfully attractive to some folks, as indicated above.
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