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Open Source Opens Doors for Comms Startups

Mitch Wagner
9/14/2016

DENVER -- NFV & Carrier SDN -- Open source can break down barriers to startups and innovation in the comms industry, which can often be resistant to new ideas.

"Our industry as a whole has a high barrier to entry for startups, and new small companies," Tom Anschutz, distinguished member of the AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) technical staff, said, speaking on a panel about the future of the data center. "With open source, SDN and NFV, one of the roles and responsibilities of innovating and bringing new things to the industry has opened up."

However, while open source provides great value, somebody's got to provide packaged support, Trey Hall, vice president of marketing and technology for Walker and Associates, said. Barriers to entry are low, but support is still challenging.

Open source is seeing acceptance at all points of the network -- the core, edge and Layer 1 through 7, Hall said. But support and maintenance can be stumbling blocks.

"Linux is in every service provider's network. It's open source. It's supported," Hall said. Open source projects go through a maturation process, which OpenStack and other, newer open source projects are now undergoing.

Innovation is the best reason to deploy open source, Andrew Coward, vice president of strategy for Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), said. "If the reason for selecting open source is that it's free and cheap, it's a poor motivation. It turns out open source isn't cheap or free at the end of the day." Support and management are expensive. "If the motivation is openness and agility, it's far more interesting," he said.

Open Talk
Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Roz Roseboro questions panelists.
Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Roz Roseboro questions panelists.

AT&T considers support as a key criterion when considering whether to adopt open source. "We're not going to just download something and deploy it," Anschutz said. AT&T looks for a well-known support infrastructure -- either from a company, as with typical Linux support, or by partnering with the open source community, which is a big commitment requiring major return.

Panelists and audience members got into a difference of opinion about the role of standards in an open source universe.

Standards are still important to build applications to interconnect machines. It's a stretch to say open source could replace standards today, but that might change in the future, Blake Hlavaty, software solutions architect for Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. , said.

Coward cautioned against confusing the "cart and horse." In today's world, developers write software first and ask standards groups to ratify their work. "'Don't tell me, show me,' has become the new way," he said. Open source comes first, then standards bless it.

The importance of standards depends on the implementation, Anschutz said. For example, over-the-air standards for wireless enabled handset interoperability for carriers. DSL and GPON standards also enabled interoperability. Without those basic IEEE standards, the market would be so fragmented it never would have taken off, he said.

On the other hand, "big system standards," such as ETSI and 3GPP, beyond basic access, are on the wane, being superseded by APIs and software interfaces. Software architects can work faster and better than standards, Anschutz said.

However, Anthony C.K. Soong, chief scientist for wireless and research standards for Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , speaking out from the audience during the Q&A portion of the panel, said open source and standardization are the same. "We view open source as a standard that is written in software," he said. One is not necessarily better than the other. Standards are text, open source is software. "Why do you view them as different?" he asked panelists.


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Anschutz said they're different processes. In standards, you start with an idea, people caucus around it and it becomes a debate. Many players have different motives, which leads to a compromise that gets enough people to ratify it. That's a fairly lengthy process, he said.

"In open source, code is the coin of the realm," Anschutz said. "The need to actually express yourself in something that's real and working, and make a contribution that's positive, is a great way to whittle out folks who are along for the ride, trying to slow down the process or come up with a compromise that doesn't solve the original goals of the standards."

Moreover, the standards process resembles waterfall development, often relying on the best solution for known use cases, while open source follows the DevOps model, starting with something simple -- "maybe even silly" -- and building on it, Anschutz said.

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— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

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GregW333
GregW333
9/18/2016 | 10:06:06 AM
Open Source Implementation of Standards
Implementing standards adds zero differentiation for a company.  It's a necessary R&D expenditure.  Logically, it would seem that using an open source implementation of a standard will reduce development time and free up scarce R&D resources to focus on value-add and differentiating features and functions to build a sustainable competitive advantage. 

Where's the confusion re: Open Source v. Standards?   
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