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Is Open Source the Right Approach for NFV Orchestration?

James Crawshaw

Once upon a time there was a maharaja who decided to raise a baby elephant as a pet (stick with me…). As the elephant grew, it became more and more expensive to feed and created such a mess that eventually the maharaja told his courtiers that he was gifting them the elephant out of the generosity of his heart. In return they would have to look after the elephant and bring it back to him when it was a bit more mature and stable enough for him to ride.

Some might say that, in the context of NFV MANO (management and orchestration), the elephant is Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) and the maharaja is AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). But that would be unfair. In reality there are two maharajas -- AT&T and China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) -- and two elephants that have been merged into a six-legged Loxodonta with two tails and three tusks. (See MANO Marriage: ECOMP, OPEN-O Converge as ONAP.)

While the prospect of grooming and training this beast might appear daunting, what is the alternative? Do operators simply give up on ONAP's open source efforts and return to buying proprietary solutions from their traditional OSS vendors, IT suppliers or niche specialists? Or do they throw their lot in with the other major open source initiative in NFV orchestration, Open Source MANO Community (OSM) ?

Outside of AT&T and China Mobile, I see strong support for ONAP from Orange and Bell Canada. But not every operator has the internal resources of a maharaja to contribute code. Instead they are looking to the vendor community to provide "hardened" plug-and-play versions of ONAP modules that can be easily integrated. However, if these modules need to be heavily customized to meet each operator's specific IT architecture, that will throw a spanner in the works of the Red Hat business model, which depends on the economies of scale of selling a common Linux distribution to multiple customers.

How will service providers enable automated and efficient network operations to support NFV & SDN? Find the answers at Light Reading's Software-Defined Operations & the Autonomous Network event in London, November 7-8. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn from and network with industry experts – communications service providers get in free!

Is ONAP simply too ambitious? Should operators instead start with something more manageable, such as OSM? That is certainly the approach that Telefónica is advocating. The OSM project also suffers from a paucity of code contribution by operators other than its Spanish champion, though the user group is seeing strong participation from others that are trialing the software, namely Telenor, BT and Sprint.

Which project are the vendors backing? Well, a recent Heavy Reading report, NFV Orchestration: Evolving Ecosystems & Solutions, found that of the 14 orchestration vendors surveyed, 11 were members of ONAP, while just three were members of the ETSI-run OSM initiative. All three OSM members were also ONAP members, hedging their bets.

To learn more about how service providers are navigating the open source options for NFV orchestration, join me for Leveraging Open Source for NFV Orchestration -- Maturity, Modularity & Money, a panel discussion with Vodafone and Telia Carrier, at our upcoming event on November 7-8 in London, Software Defined Operations and the Autonomous Network.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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