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Mud-Slinging at the SDN CorralMud-Slinging at the SDN Corral

I was at the front line of the SDN/NFV Cold War last week – it was noisy.

October 22, 2015

6 Min Read
Mud-Slinging at the SDN Corral

When the going gets tough, the scared start trash talking: That's exactly what happened at the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress in Düsseldorf last week.

While presentations and on-the-record discussions focused on the power of collaboration, talk of the strength of open source developments and the positive influence of core industry specifications and standards groups, behind the scenes there was a torrent of negative briefing and back-stabbing.

I'm not talking about the public requests to make certain technologies more robust or "carrier grade" -- Peter Willis of BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) calling for fixes to OpenStack is a prime example of very open communications to the industry. (See BT Threatens to Ditch OpenStack.)

Instead I'm talking about verbal undermining tactics of different groups and camps that, according to Light Reading's industry sources, were rife in Düsseldorf.

The thing to consider here is that this is trash talk -- not statements of fact. It is indicative, though, of the current state of the telco virtualization market, where it is starting to become clear which organizations, technologies and companies will be "the chosen ones." That scares the wits out of people and results in (amongst other things) the sniping, just as predicted. (See NFV & the Cold War of Communications.)

Here are a few examples:

ONOS bashing
In the SDN platform world, word on the street is that the OpenDaylight (ODL) camp has been giving ONOS "a bashing… saying that's it's just a Huawei vehicle." Why would ODL supporters attack the ONOS development? The theory is that the ODL crew feels threatened by how popular ONOS has become with network operators and vendors alike, just as ONOS becomes a partner of the Linux Foundation, home to ODL. (See ONOS & Linux Foundation Head Off War.)

I mentioned to Neela Jacques, OpenDaylight Project executive director, that ONOS was allegedly being targeted by ODL supporters, but he said he hadn't heard any such trash talk and was surprised it was happening.

Guru Parulkar, executive director at On.Lab, which has been developing ONOS, was shocked to hear of such baiting and the accusations that it is a Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. shop. "For sure Huawei is a contributor but so is Ciena and Fujitsu and AT&T and SK Telecom and many others. About 80% of our code has been developed by the ON.Lab team and 20% by partners, including network operators. This has been a deliberate move to avoid the influence of vendors… ONOS is very unique," says Parulkar, who believes ODL might ultimately be used for provisioning and orchestration of legacy boxes in a hybrid network environment while ONOS acts as the overall controller. "We have been designing from the start for network operators, so it's maybe not surprising that we have been more successful," he adds.

A two-way street…
Of course you wouldn't expect to hear ODL supporters bashing ONOS and not hear anything going in the other direction. One ONOS supporter who requested anonymity (and, for the record, it was not Parulkar) claims that decision makers at network operators are losing faith with OpenDaylight because it is "locked down by Cisco. Cisco gets to decide who contributes code. It is too vendor-driven," says the senior technology executive.

Tail-f is in the firing line
A constant target for scorn is Tail-f, the Netconf/Yang folks that were acquired by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) last year. Light Reading's sources say Tail-f is a target for two reasons. First, because it is part of Cisco and people love to bash any part of Cisco they can. Second, and far more importantly, is because the network configuration capabilities that Tail-f developed and that Cisco inherited and integrated into its service provider virtualization suite are undermining the need for network operators to invest in new OSS systems, in particular the often proprietary software adapters commonly used to connect OSS systems with network elements. As a result of Tail-f's capabilities, and the market clout it now has as part of the Cisco machine, major OSS players are dumping on Tail-f. All the large OSS vendors are "running scared," says one contact. As you can see from the picture below, the Tail-f team is petrified…

Figure 1: Worried? Tail-f marketing chief Renee Robinson Stromberg is very upset at the trash talk coming from the OSS world... Tail-f marketing chief Renée Robinson Strömberg is very upset at the trash talk coming from the OSS world...

It's also possible that the OSS brigade was even more hacked off than usual last week because the Tail-f team, as part of its marketing assault on service provider executives, had drawn up and promoted a set of RFP demands that network operators could include in their RFPs for next-generation systems. As you'd expect, the RFP demands are based around the use of Netconf/Yang and the principles of avoiding what Tail-f calls "adaptor taxation."

What's with the ETSI NFV ISG?
This is not so much trash talk but an area of concern for a number of companies, particularly service providers. The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specifications Group (ISG) has been a game-changer for the New IP sector ever since it emerged almost three years ago. Set up and driven by a group of major network operators, the group has been issuing white papers, publishing specifications, running working groups, developing proofs of concept (PoCs) that have helped shape the evolution of NFV. Now, though, several members are concerned that developments have hit something of a speed bump and that the ISG currently "lacks direction." As that comment comes from an active member, that's certainly something for the NFV community to think about and maybe something to discuss at the next NFV ISG meeting in New Jersey next week. (See ETSI NFV Group Sets Phase 2 Agenda.)

So what does this all mean? It's symptomatic of a new stage in the evolution of the communications sector, one that will reveal champions and laggards. Some companies, organizations and individuals will adapt and help drive new innovation but others won't be as willing or able.

Quite what will happen next is anyone's guess but you can expect the trash talk volume to crank up to 11 some time soon.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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