Industry Bodies/Groups

Linux Tackles Vendor Open Source Issues

The Linux Foundation is working with its service provider and vendor partners to develop a white paper that directly addresses the issues around how open source has triggered a value shift in the market and where its real advantages lie for all partners. The intent is to have the document ready by the time of the Open Networking Summit in Los Angeles, March 26-29.

There have been ongoing discussions -- and complaints -- from vendors that open source is undercutting their margins, as well as confusion around whether or not open source is "free" for service providers, although by now it should be widely known that it's not. In fact, most service providers have admitted they prefer to consume open source software through commercial distributions from trusted vendors, who then provide ongoing support and service. (See TIP Players Voice Open Source Misgivings and Vendors, Get Used to Life Under Open Source.)

The evolution of that model has led to further criticisms from vendors, however, that open source isn't really speeding up market innovation, a point its backers strongly contest. Tackling this issue head-on is one way to lay it to rest, says Arpit Joshipura, general manager of networking and orchestration for the Linux Foundation .

"We are trying to quantify the value to vendors," he says. "There is clarification and quantification needed. There is an organization impact that is not obvious."

He tells Light Reading in an interview that the upcoming document will address the key factors in determining value -- time to revenue/deployment and total cost of ownership (TCO) -- from both the vendor and the service provider perspective. The Linux exec also offers a rough preview of the turf that the white paper will cover.

"If you take these two factors and look at it from a vendor perspective and an end-user perspective, you will see different things happening in terms of the value shifts and that is because of open source," Joshipura comments.

In the case of service providers, the case can be made in a fairly straight-forward manner, he claims. It currently takes 12 to 18 months minimum for a service provider to decide that it wants a new service and to get that service working through existing specifications or standards operations and through a vendor process to deployment. Complications along the way around issues such as vendor interoperability -- since few service providers want a single vendor version of a new service -- can stretch that out.

By contrast, Joshipura says, BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) (NYSE/Toronto: BCE) joined open source project Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) last March and was up and running by year's end. And if they want to do something new with it, they are free to do so.

"If they say, this feature doesn't work well here, they can go in and make code changes, submit it back to us upstream, then download the latest and be done with it," he says. "Or they can branch off and let process catch up or they can ask one of the vendors involved in open source to make the changes they need, without necessarily slowing down. The whole dynamics of time to deployment and time to revenue are different."

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From a cost perspective, there are some capex savings for operators as they move to deploy off-the-shelf hardware at lower cost. But some of those savings may be offset by higher software expenses, especially for vendors to do customization of open source and provide ongoing support, Joshipura says. That's one of the areas he's hoping the Linux white paper can address in greater specifics.

The vendor viewpoint will obviously be different. He sees the dynamic changing from one in which vendors respond to network operator RFPs to one where vendors and operators co-develop products through an open source process.

"When it comes time for deployment, support and customization, the network operators tend to automatically go the route they are used to, so effectively instead of going through an RFP process, you are already pre-selected," he says. That has been a major motivating factor for networking vendors to not just join open source to track activity but to get actively engaged. "There is money to be made here."

It's an effort that is certainly working out well for Amdocs Ltd. (NYSE: DOX). (See Monetizing ONAP, the Amdocs Way.)

What the white paper will also address, however, is the cost savings for vendors when much of the software development is tackled in open source, Joshipura promises. But among the benefits for vendors as well as operators is that interoperability is not a post-deployment issue, as it so often has been in the past.

He isn't expecting vendor concerns about open source to magically vanish with publication of the white paper. One of the ongoing issues will be how vendors deal with open source internally, he adds.

"Sometimes the open source effort within a vendor is part of the CTO's office, and the products are part of the engineering organization," Joshipura says. "The vendors who have these two separate are the ones that question and struggle. We are going to quantify it and make sure it is clear, and we are doing it with joint work with analysts and vendors."

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

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