The orchestra has an aspiring new conductor. Tiny, three-person Inmanta is still relatively unknown alongside the familiar faces of the orchestration world, but its profile is rising. A funding round planned for later this year could help to establish it as a more serious alternative to the old guard.
So where did Inmanta come from, and what makes it different from all of the other orchestrators?
While it is just starting to make waves, the company has actually been around for a couple of years, and traces its software expertise back more than ten. Founded in January 2016 by former PhD students at the University of Leuven in Belgium, it spent most of that year working on projects in telecom and finance as it put together an open source version of what it calls an "end-to-end orchestrator." The product it has been showcasing at events like the recent Zero Touch & Carrier Automation Congress in Madrid was not ready until mid-2017 and includes more telecom-specific features, says Stefan Walraven, Inmanta's co-founder and CEO.
Even before then, however, Inmanta had started to make inroads into the telecom industry. In December 2016, it won a "call for innovation" competition run by Proximus, Telia Company and Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), the respective telecom incumbents of Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland. Proximus is currently evaluating the results of a subsequent proof of concept (PoC) that recently concluded.
Inmanta is now working on PoCs with three other European telcos, including Eurofiber in the Benelux countries (the names of the others cannot be disclosed publicly). It is also getting paid for those projects. Walraven says his "conservative" goal is to have a production deployment within a year. For that, Inmanta will need a bigger team to provide the requisite level of support. The funding round should help it to expand, although Walraven is not disclosing details of any fundraising targets.
What differentiates Inmanta from rivals are its focus on end-to-end orchestration as well as the openness and programmability of the technology, says Walraven. "Everyone has something that does orchestration but the big vendors like Cisco and Ericsson and Nokia are clearly pushing their own ecosystems," he tells Light Reading. "We focus on the orchestration part and we're really designed to be an open orchestrator with no vendor lock-in."
This could prove critical as operators continue to grumble about the interoperability shortcomings of their main suppliers. Inmanta, moreover, reckons most of the existing orchestration tools take a "bottom-up" approach, automating and building scripts on top of other technologies. Instead, it is pursuing a "top-down" model that involves creating an "abstraction layer" -- to address interoperability challenges -- very close to the vendor APIs (application programming interfaces).
"There is a very small gap we solve with Python [a popular programming language] but that is just a few lines of code and a very limited effort," says Walraven. The overall set-up means customers can easily "onboard" new services and components, according to Inmanta.
The proof should come if Inmanta can land the production deployment that Walraven craves. Besides working on its four PoCs, Inmanta has been in discussions with other operators, and there seemed to be a healthy level of interest in its offerings at the Madrid event. This year's Mobile World Congress was also "surprisingly successful," says Walraven. "People did find us. The best contacts are coming from existing customers where we do pilots and they talk to other operators."
— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading