TM Forum Wants Role of Open Source Glue

LONDON -- TM Forum is stepping up to be the organization that unites the multiple open source network management and orchestration efforts going on within telecom today, intending to create a hybrid network management platform that incorporates diverse open source efforts.

In an interview here today in advance of a TM Forum Workshop tied to Light Reading's OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV event this week, Barry Graham, senior director of agile business & IT for TM Forum, tells Light Reading the organization has already held one meeting of eight open source groups and is intending to create a Catalyst project for early 2017 as well. Catalyst projects are a TM Forum method of bringing network operators and others together to create real-world solutions that can be demonstrated to the broader community.

At the October meeting in Stockholm, sponsored by Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and described in this TM Forum blog, groups like Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. , Open Source MANO Community (OSM) , OpenDaylight , ONOS and more came together with network operators such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) -- which has its own ECOMP effort -- and China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), which is part of Open Orchestrator.

What they discovered, Graham says, is that while there is some overlap, most of the open source group work is actually complementary. That sets up a situation where the TM Forum can be in a position to help glue together the various efforts, much as it once pulled together commercial software implementations in a common network management model. This new effort would happen within TM Forum's Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management (ZOOM) project.

"We have a tentative discussion going with these guys to try to build a Catalyst project around a hybrid network management platform incorporating all these open source guys," he comments. "TM Forum has expertise in this area -- we brought all the independent software vendors together, and isn't this just a similar world, now that we have open source contributing to that whole mosaic."

TM Forum has already developed its own Open API program, a "global initiative to enable end-to-end seamless connectivity, interoperability and portability across complex ecosystem-based services," that is gaining traction among network operators such as Vodafone. (See Vodafone Champions Open APIs & Platform Business Models for SDN, NFV & Cloud Services With Huawei.)

But APIs are only a piece of the story, Graham notes. "All the stuff that wraps around the API is also important -- you need an agreed-upon process model, agreed-upon data models and agreed-upon information models," and those are areas where TM Forum can be of assistance.

The TM Forum Information Model has been around for some time and has already been widely adopted by network operators as a high-level abstraction of how to describe what information needs to be exchanged, and a common language for doing that. Some of the open source groups are using the TM Forum Information Model, he says, even though they haven't publicly announced it.

"It's been used by so many people over the years, it has become a common ancestor of sorts, and so some of the open source folks are adopting TM Forum models because what they are picking up was based on that in the past," Graham says, pointing to the MEF's Lifecycle Services Orchestration (LSO) work as an example of something based on TM Forum's Information Model.

Want to know more about managing and orchestrating virtualized networks? Join us in London for Light Reading's OSS/BSS in the Era of NFV & SDN on November 3.

TM Forum is building a reference architecture of a hybrid network management platform, that addresses both virtual and legacy networks, and is now looking at open source efforts and how they can fit into that reference model to create something that works together, he added. That led to the closed meeting in Stockholm with the open source groups.

And that's where a possible Catalyst project comes in. "That's what Catalysts do -- take stuff that should work together and build something to see what works together and what doesn't, what's missing and what's there in three different ways," Graham explains. "We can build a reference implementation and prototype and see how the various glue stands up and see what we learn."

The Forum believes it has a lot of the pieces in place already through its Project ZOOM and will definitely keep that effort's focus on making sure whatever solutions are developed embrace automation, and that that automation is increasingly driven by policy, Graham says.

"We've always said it's got to be automated -- we are starting to look at more of the policy aspects because it has to be policy driven," he notes. That is the best hope for enabling network operators to develop business processes as microservices -- small composable chunks of functionality that are chained together as needed, and driven by the policies that are relevant to a given set of customers or specific service being delivered.

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

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