AT&T's Anschutz: ONF Shift Is More About Culture Than Technology

Carol Wilson
3/27/2018
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LOS ANGELES -- Open Networking Summit -- Major changes announced this week by the Open Networking Foundation are more about process and getting the right kind of collaborative culture in place than they are about specific technology, AT&T's Tom Anschutz said here today. (See ONF Operators Take Charge of Edge SDN.)

Speaking at the end of the Open Networking Foundation 's Vision Summit here, Anschutz was one of a parade of board-member operators talking about the role the ONF is playing in their future visions. After briefly discussing some of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s technology plans and goals, the distinguished member of technical staff got to what he said was the more important piece.

"What are we looking for from the ONF and the engagement in this process is not about the engineering artifacts, although those are important," he said. "That is not really what makes open source work. I have learned from engaging with web-scale folks that … it is getting together the engineering system and the tool chains, finding the right culture for solving problems and getting the right people and processes in place to execute it."

ONF's new structure and approach is an indication that operators "are interested in changing how we build things, through a community approach, with operators having much more skin in the game," Anschutz said. "What you build isn't as important as how you build it." [A quote he attributed to Dave Meyer, former Cisco and Brocade exec now chief scientist and consultant at Huawei.]

ONF Board on the Hot Seat
Operators field questions on the major changes ONF is undergoing.
Operators field questions on the major changes ONF is undergoing.

That thinking is what fueled the changes within ONF to create more of a carrier community that will drive things going forward, to bring software-defined networking to the edge of the network faster, and in a way that addresses the non-differentiated aspects in a single approach, to move the entire industry forward at a faster pace.

As part of that, ONF itself will see a culture change, he noted, and embrace technologies from other communities and groups and not just what it has developed internally.

"We shouldn't have so much religion" Anschutz says. "ONF needs to build bridges to other groups. If we only work with things from ONF, it is not going to go very far. All of the carriers have something they are wedded to that didn't come from ONF. "


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Earlier in the day, after ONF Executive Director Guru Parulkar had outlined the new approach that the open source group is taking, the operators engaged in the new process -- AT&T, China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), Telefónica and Turk Telecom -- answered audience questions on the change and had some interesting insights:

  • Comcast's Rob Howald, vice president of network architecture, said ONF's new approach is definitely about getting to deployment quickly, not just doing more field trials, and said this would be "a very consequential year" both for Comcast and for this new effort. Later, he said a key challenge for the cable operator would be making these significant upgrades to its network without its customers ever seeing any change or disruption. "We need it to be invisible."

  • Robert Soukup, senior program manager at Deutsche Telekom, addressed the difficult issue of why there are limited vendor spots on the new Technical Leadership Team of ONF. "It is a tough question, but the idea is to make this an operator-led consortium and keep the voice of the operators, who have a main stake in this, and not let ONF be overtaken by vendors, who might want to come and take ownership of the board and slow things down. We want operators to drive it, that is why we want to limit the suppliers and their influence."

  • That doesn't mean there is no role for innovative vendors or integrators to influence what happens at ONF, but they will need to do it through the operators, by being a valuable partner or bringing something to the table that is needed, commented AT&T's Al Blackburn.

  • China Unicom's Chief Scientist Tang Xiongyan noted his company is ready to move aggressively with CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center) as it re-works its entire data center infrastructure, but needs more vendors to step up and provide the open source components that fit into that infrastructure." Finally, Anschutz was pressed in a Q&A about AT&T's deployment plans and demurred, saying he needed to avoid upstaging what is to come here. That seems to be a direct reference to the keynote tomorrow by Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer, and not the guy you want to upstage. So stay tuned.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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