With the potential impact of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) now influencing decision-making processes at every major carrier in the world, never has it been more important for communications network operators to get to grips with the term "open" and what it means for every aspect of their operations and culture.
There's probably no other important concept in telecom networking that is so often cited, yet just as often misunderstood, as that of being open.
Openness is often called out as a primary goal of virtualization, as telecom network operators try to move away from proprietary, purpose-built systems (which lock them into specific vendors) and towards more flexible open hardware that lets them mix and match best-of-breed technologies.
There are a number of initiatives based on openness -- OpenStack, OpenFlow, and OpenDaylight, to name a few.
But is there one definition of open for communications network operators? To find out, we asked several major service providers to share their definitions of open, particularly as it relates to SDN and NFV.
Six operators responded. While the answers have some similarities, each is actually quite different. Clearly, "open" is in the eye of the beholder.
One reason for that, as noted by Diego Lopez, senior technology expert at Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)'s research division, Telefónica I+D, is that the term open is overused, especially in discussing virtualization. "It seems like you'll have to add the 'open' prefix to whatever you do," he says.
The operator responses clearly show that openness retains its importance, however. The answers, which came via email, showed thoughtfulness, even though some were short and to the point and others much more detailed.
Some of the differences can be attributed to the individual who fielded our email. For example, we queried John Considine, the CTO of Verizon Terremark, the cloud organization, while choosing to ask research executives or virtualization specialists from other carriers. Only one company, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), declined to provide a response, although you can get some idea of its view of openness from comments made by Margaret Chiosi, distinguished network architect, in October of 2013. (See ESDN: AT&T Calls for SDN APIs Now.)
The executives who responded are (in alphabetical order):
- Yves Bellego, director of network technical strategy, Orange (NYSE: FTE)
- John Considine, CTO, Verizon Terremark
- Chris Davis, senior director of marketing, Americas, NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT)
- James Feger, VP, network strategy and development, CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL)
- Diego Lopez, senior technology expert, Telefónica I+D
- Peter Willis, chief data networks strategist, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA)
The responses highlighted a number of key themes, which are explored in the following pages of this feature:
- Practical functionality
- Not all industry initiatives are made equal
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading