Five years into the NFV/SDN transformation process, as the telecom industry continues to debate issues around interoperability and automation, two companies that developed early virtualization solutions are reaching a crossroads -- and the paths they are taking distinctly diverge.
UBiqube Plc and EnterpriseWeb LLC were early to the market with software that could serve as the glue which bound multivendor NFV/SDN deployments and both found some degree of early success, UBiqube with a few big telco customers and EnterpriseWeb in a series of proofs-of-concept and TM Forum Catalyst projects.
The substantial delays in actual deployments of robust, automated multivendor virtualization, however, have pushed both companies to seek new relationships with major systems integrators in order to bring their software to market and start to generate meaningful revenues.
But while EnterpriseWeb is still planning to play significantly in the telecom space, UBiqube now sees its biggest opportunities among enterprises looking to move faster and focus on more specific problem sets.
This week, Light Reading looks more closely at the updated strategies of both companies, starting today with UBiqube.
Privately owned UBiqube, which has its headquarters in Dublin but its main operations in Échirolles, France, has recently emerged from a self-imposed two-year "stealth" period during which its founding CEO and chairman, Nabil Souli, sought funding that would enable the company to revive its fortunes and scale rapidly. His efforts culminated this spring with the announcement of Series A (undisclosed) funding round -- not from venture capitalists as many had expected, but from Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), the venture arm of NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and Fortinet Inc. (See UBiqube Secures Strategic Series A Financing Round.)
None of the investors has a majority stake and, thus, there won't be a single influence dictating how the product develops, Souli says. "We wanted diversity and minority ownership."
That determination to stay independent proved a significant complication for the CEO, as most potential investors simply wanted to acquire UBiqube, according to Souli, and that might have undermined the original mission of its object-based orchestration platform.
Now, though, with the new funding in place, the team at UBiqube is embarking on its new mission to partner with systems integrators, providing its software framework and the necessary toolkit to enable them to build automation for their enterprise customers. (UBiqube already has partnerships with Aricent, Fujitsu, NEC and Tech Mahindra.)
Souli regards the enterprise market as a substantially larger opportunity for his company than continuing to chase what he calls the slower-moving telecom operators.
Getting to this point
UBiqube began life as a managed security services company but, by 2010, the company had evolved its MSActivator platform to be a management system for networks, security and voice-over-IP. The company partnered with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) on bigger projects and targeted the telecom sector with a platform designed to support multivendor deployments via a single management interface, using an object-based abstraction layer at the edge of the network, where there was a proliferation of different devices from many different vendors. (See UBIqube Touts Managed Security, UBIqube's OSS Supports Cisco and EuroProfile: UBIqube.)
With the rise of virtualization, UBiqube unveiled an orchestration suite for SDN that, once again, was aimed at offering a way for telecom operators to knit together SDN-enabled elements as well as legacy systems from multiple vendors and eliminate complexity in the process. The company landed significant deals with NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) and Orange Business Services to help them automate delivery of services through customer portals, among other things. (See NTT, UBIqube Team on Managed Security DevOps and Orange Unveils NFV-Based Offering for SMBs.)
The object-based abstraction layer UBiqube originally designed for its managed security infrastructure grew into a framework to which new elements and vendors could be added as new objects, without requiring massive integration or retrofitting, and that was a core company value.
"When this orchestration boom started, for me what the industry needed was a piece of programmatic software so they can stitch together all these parts -- virtualized technologies for XYZ vendors, plus the security space needing to be mixed with networking space," Souli tells Light Reading in an interview.
"We see the need for that kind of technology that would enable any player in the ecosystem -- telcos or vendors -- to stitch together parts. That is our vision, to bring that type of software to the industry without being religious about it."
In trying to do that, UBiqube ran into a classic problem faced by smaller vendors trying to sell to large telecom network operators. UBiqube was too small to sell directly to telecom giants worldwide, but unable to partner with bigger technology suppliers while still retaining the vendor-neutral value of its key product, the MSActivator.
That led to Souli's search for additional funding and the unwanted offers to acquire UbiQube. "I believe there is room for one standalone company in this space," he comments. "But when we made it clear we are not selling, some of them walked away. We went into stealth mode so I could nail down this funding."
In the intervening period, UBiqube was displaced by Ciena's Blue Planet Orchestrator at Orange Business Services (for the service provider's on-demand service offerings). But while Souli says a deal with a major Japanese telecom operator is in the works, he also makes it clear that telcos are no longer the company's core target market: Instead, UBiqube's future lies in partnerships with big systems integrators that are targeting the enterprise market. (See Orange Plots Mass Network-as-a-Service Rollout.)
"We know that what the market wants is the ability to onboard services quickly, and that is exactly how UBiqube has grown, by stitching on software at the edge of the network, adding software to big data engines and VPN-type engines, and having a toolkit that empowers the community to build their own automation processes on top of that," Souli says.
Where he sees the major opportunities today is in working with big systems integrators who will use UBiqube's software and its toolkit to help their enterprise customers develop the automated processes they need across multivendor environments and across service types. UBiqube already developed Agile work processes to be able to collaborate with both vendors and operators, in a DevOps manner, to create automated processes on top of the MSActivator platform, Souli adds.
He believes those capabilities position UBiqube well to also work with systems integrators and provide its software and toolkit to their engineers. "Those guys know the sales opportunities and they are the ones to take it on," he says. "We think we can show them how they can make money using us, because if they don't see a way to make money, they won't help us in [the enterprise] markets. When we look at the number of systems integrators and the worldwide opportunity that is in front of us, it is much bigger than the telcos."
The other contrast he sees between the systems integrators with their enterprise customers and the telecom operator sector is that the former are more pragmatic in the solutions they adopt, and less religious.
"They are very focused on the specific needs of their customers," Souli comments.
As for the telecom sector, UBiqube isn't ruling out doing business in that market, but he believes much of what is happening now in the open source MANO (management and network orchestration) sector isn't moving the ball forward fast enough, and the slow pace of movement makes the sector less attractive to a company such as UBiqube.
He says his battle is no longer "to convince a back office or OSS guy to use this next-gen system or... replace your Amdocs system," he says. "That process is just slowing us down."
So while UBiqube will continue to track what's happening in various MANO initiatives, it is eyeing a prize that Souli and his team expect to come to fruition faster and with less friction.
Long-time industry analyst Tom Nolle, president of CIMI, says he thinks UBiqube's software "fits the distribution model they are talking about," because it's well "productized" and doesn't require the integrators to do their own intensive software development: Fujitsu has already announced integration of UBiqube's orchestration platform into its product line.
By contrast, Nolle is not as convinced that EnterpriseWeb's software has moved beyond the toolkit stage to be easily deployable by a systems integrator -- but that's a story for later this week.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading