Can Carriers Open Source New Biz Processes?

Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson, Editor-at-large

DENVER -- NFV & Carrier SDN -- One of the more telling moments of our NFV & Carrier SDN event here this week actually happened before the conference itself had formally started, at an Oracle-sponsored breakfast session Tuesday morning.

Appearing on a panel with my Heavy Reading colleague Jim Hodges were Bill Walker, director of network architecture at CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), and Paul Boland, managing partner, solutions at Verizon Enterprise Solutions . Sitting in the front row of the session was Tom Anschutz, distinguished member of technical staff at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) Services Inc., who would later deliver a keynote.

The conversation had turned to how each of those companies, the three largest US incumbent telecom companies, wanted to streamline their internal processes and make it easier and faster for their customers to turn up services, hopefully on a portal, and in plain English terms that focused on business objectives.

But standing in the way of their efforts are layers of legacy network elements, each with its own element management systems, and decades of business practices and regulatory processes that need to be broken down or rationalized, not to mention organizational silos.

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The thought arose -- I think it originated with Anschutz -- that today's open source efforts should include a community of network operators who would contribute developers to work together to define a common approach including applications programming interfaces, for the layers of network stuff that they all use.

"We are all working on layers of the network that are not business differentiating," he said. "What if we had developer teams from each operator working on this?"

There was general agreement among the panelists on that idea, that open source for carriers should wind up with each company contributing but the community getting big things done in short periods of time that none of them could accomplish on their own.

Walker returned to this theme in his keynote speech on Wednesday, challenging those present to rethink how telecom operates today, particularly in doing business with each other. (See CL's Walker: Telecom Needs Cooperation Revamp.)

That may be work happening to some degree within the open source groups that already count carriers among their number, and that includes the Open Networking Foundation, OPNFV, and others. In his keynote address, Walker mentioned the Next Generation Enterprise Network Alliance (ngena) as one such effort. But over the course of our two-day conference, I didn't hear that thought articulated again quite as well as it had been at this one moment.

Thursday's announcement by AT&T and Orange that the latter is going to test AT&T's ECOMP management and network orchestration platform seems to me to be another step in the direction of getting the folks who own and operate the networks to come together and more specifically define what they think it takes to tackle the thorniest issues on the way to meeting virtualization's number one goal, and that is to bring services to market more quickly. (See Orange First to Test AT&T's ECOMP.)

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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