Carrier SDN

SoftBank's 'Open Source' Source Is a Slovakian Startup

A 13-player software startup in Slovakia appears to have outrun the bigger networking vendors to land an important network deal with Japan's SoftBank.

Founded last year, and based in the Slovak capital of Bratislava, Frinx claims to offer a "fully supported" version of OpenDaylight and is one of a crop of new companies that sees a business opportunity in open source technology.

For anyone that's forgotten, OpenDaylight is an open source SDN platform that is managed by the Linux Foundation. The project includes some of the biggest names in the technology industry, with Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) and ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) all listed as "platinum" members on the organization's website.

But it was to tiny Frinx that SoftBank Corp. turned most recently for OpenDaylight support.

"SoftBank was looking for support for OpenDaylight infrastructure and wanted someone to shepherd them through the process," says Gerhard Wieser, Frinx's CEO.

Wieser cannot reveal details of the vendors that lost out to Frinx during a tender last year, but says his young company "was up against the big guys."

The contrast between Frinx and SoftBank could not be starker. Frinx employs just 13, has raised about $5 million in funding and is around a year old. SoftBank has more than 69,000 employees, made about $81 billion in revenues last fiscal year and was founded in 1981.

What's even more striking is that such a minnow could see off the vendors that SoftBank has traditionally used on network projects.

Frinx's success points to the upheaval that is underway as operators embrace open source, software and virtualization technologies, and it sends a troubling message to the industry giants. (See Open Sores: Are Telcos on a Collision Course With Vendors?)

But Wieser, who previously worked at Cisco, says it is testament to the expertise he has been able to assemble at Frinx.

"The folks I picked to form Frinx have been key contributors to OpenDaylight, with a long track record on various projects," he says. "That is why I think SoftBank picked us."

Answering questions from Light Reading, SoftBank said it had been working with Frinx to introduce OpenDaylight-based technologies into its commercial networks.

"Frinx is expected to provide code base support for the open source project, which is vendor neutral," said a spokesperson for the operator. "After due consideration we concluded that Frinx has the right solutions and expertise to do that."

SoftBank also confirmed that it is not currently investing in Frinx.

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Much like Red Hat -- a leading advocate of open source technology whose revenues and profits have grown for the past five years -- Frinx intends to make money from the support and services it provides around OpenDaylight technology.

Frinx is providing SoftBank with a curated and tested distribution of OpenDaylight, which it simply calls the Frinx ODL Distribution, and a package for the software development process that is branded the Frinx Smart Build Engine.

Wieser claims that Frinx provides a higher level of quality assurance than a user would get with the open version of OpenDaylight.

In a nutshell, the deal means that SoftBank can focus on building the applications that sit on top of OpenDaylight and leave the management of the open source software to Frinx.

The main challenge for Frinx could be managing the expectations of such a large player. And bigger vendors may begin to adapt their own business models to the new open source realities, Wieser acknowledges.

"On the customer side, people are excited about using open source, but what has been missing is the support model, and I think we've hit the sweet spot there," he says. "Other large companies are talking about open source, and it wouldn't surprise me if over time they would be ready to go down such a support path as well."

SoftBank is not the only big player with which Frinx is working, says Wieser -- merely the only one it has been able to announce as a customer. "There are others we are super-excited about," he says.

The company is also augmenting its portfolio of services and says forthcoming innovations will allow customers to solve network configuration and control use cases "out of the box, with no or little customization."

There are also plans to expand the workforce. Wieser is not disclosing details on that front but says "the pool of engineering talent is deep and available" in Bratislava.

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

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