Data Center Infrastructure

Will Carriers Follow Facebook's Networking Lead?

Facebook is turning the normal relationship between network operators and vendors upside down. Is this a lead that service providers will follow, and if so, how far?

Traditionally, carriers signed a contract with a vendor, and the vendor provided everything and told the carrier what to do to keep its network running. It's like the relationship between your grandparents and their doctor -- the doctor told them to do something and they just did it, without asking questions or seeking a second opinion.

Now, leading carriers like AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) are partnering with vendors to virtualize networks with SDN and NFV. They're demanding accountability and asking questions and looking to play multiple vendors against each other.

But Facebook takes network leadership to the extreme. We talked with Omar Baldonado, manager of the social network's networking team, who described how Facebook has embraced open source and even applied open source principles to hardware, designing its own switches, writing networking software and even designing the data centers themselves.

Want to know more about SDN? This will be just one of the many topics covered at Light Reading's second Big Telecom Event on June 9-10 in Chicago. Get yourself registered today or get left behind!

Will service providers do the same? At least one analyst doesn't think so. Heavy Reading Analyst Roz Roseboro says that designing and managing network equipment is a huge personnel and education investment, one that carriers will be reluctant to jump into.

Still, Facebook provides an example to carriers of best practices for high-capacity networking, as well as how to use pressure from open source to keep proprietary vendors on their toes.

Find out how Facebook is building its own networks and leading global networking in a new Prime Reading report: Facebook Reinvents Data Center Networking.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

kq4ym 5/29/2015 | 11:13:23 AM
Re: you're asking the wrong question... Good points. It does seem the Google and Facebook printing money machines just figure they can pretty much do what they want with all that extra cach laying around But, "designing and managing network equipment is a huge personnel and education investment, one that carriers will be reluctant to jump into," may or may not hold out when tables turn and either the cost get less significant or the Googles and Facebooks find cheaper ways to farm out the work.
Mitch Wagner 5/28/2015 | 6:01:31 PM
Re: you're asking the wrong question... Facebook says it will happily use vendor products when vendors are able to meet their needs.
dwx 5/28/2015 | 4:42:46 PM
Not so sure Most service providers have very compenent network architecture/engineering staffs.  In most cases they are the ones driving and collaborating with the vendors to implement and build specific systems, especially the really large carriers.   You will see many members of the IEEE, IETF, etc. come from large carriers, not just equipment vendors.  I don't think Facebook and Google are doing anything new at all to be honest.  They use the same gear for portion of their networks as everyone else, and push vendors in the same way.   

ATT and Verizon still have research arms who could certainly design and build their own equipment if they really wanted to spend the money on it.  I don't think they see the worth in it anymore.  

Enterprises are the ones who are apt to just deploy whatever turn-key solutions networking vendors sell them, in my experience.  
MS 5/28/2015 | 1:57:20 PM
Re: you're asking the wrong question... Agree, but just because you know it won't work doesn't mean it won't happen.  

These large companies (FB, GOOG, etc) are already well underway in building their own internal networking company (hw, sw, ems/sdn/insert acronym).  Either they're going to continue to grow at a rate where that internal networking company can survive with a single customer (themselves), or they're eventually going to have to do something else with it.   That's either a write-off or a spin-off or a new line of business.   Leadership isn't generally a fan of write-offs unless they're new on the job and writing off someone else's mistakes.  A new line of business is generally unrealistic as it means their competitors would have to buy from them. That leaves a spin-off as something that generally makes investors feel (temporarily) better.  

From here, it looks like these companies are showing the same stupidity & arrogance of telecom operators from 30 years ago.  I find it rather comical.  Does that make me a bad person? 


brooks7 5/28/2015 | 1:36:01 PM
Re: you're asking the wrong question... I would argue that we already know those spin-offs fail.  See Lucent and Nortel.  They go from being an exclusive provider to a captive market to participating in an open market.

MS 5/28/2015 | 11:28:55 AM
you're asking the wrong question... The question isn't "when are carriers going to follow facebook into building their own network equipment & software", but "when is facebook going to follow the carriers and stop building their own proprietary equipment & software".  Go back and look at at&t in the 1960s-1980s, or BT/FT/DT/etc in the same period - they all had significant R&D expenditures related to proprietary development.  And then a crazy thing happened - competition.  They stopped being able to print and waste money.  Soon after they realized that maybe they were better off joining with other customers around the globe on common requirements and products, rather than doing their own.  They were no longer king of the world and had to start acting like it.  

But right now, the Facebooks & Googles of the world are still in the printing money stage.  They have more money than they know what to do with, so they're plucking it down in whatever 'efficiency' operations they can.  Once they start hitting crazy things like deregulation, competition, stagnation... their future COO will smartly jettison development efforts, calling it a spin-off, and create the next Lucent/Nortels of the world.  

Facetel?  Googworks?  Give it 10-15 years...

mendyk 5/28/2015 | 10:06:14 AM
Irony board The weird "lesson" here is that Facebook got deep into the network-building weeds to get what it wanted, but CSPs are being told left, right, and up the middle that they need to shed their network-centric view and think more like their new competitors coming from the Web realm, like ... Facebook.
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