Will ECOMP Be the Alpha MANO?

Formal launch of ECOMP in open source is chance to tout its advantages, but are they enough to unite the telecom industry?

February 2, 2017

6 Min Read
Will ECOMP Be the Alpha MANO?

SAN FRANCISCO -- The anticipated release of AT&T's ECOMP software platform as open source was formally announced here Wednesday, along with a list of ten project members, and served to touch off a fresh round of speculation as to how the multiple open source efforts around network management and orchestration will come together -- or not.

Orange and Bell Canada are the other two current service provider members of the open-source ECOMP project -- which is not being called Open ECOMP, by the way -- and both have begun trials of the software. The list of supporting vendors includes some that are also part of another significant MANO development, the Open Orchestrator (OPEN-O) project, including Ericsson, Huawei and Intel.

Other members of ECOMP are Amdocs, Brocade, IBM and Metaswitch. Chris Rice, senior vice president of AT&T Labs, commented Wednesday, however, that more service providers are expected in the immediate weeks ahead, but weren't yet ready to announce formally on the day. (See Amdocs: Expect ECOMP Adoption Boomlet and AT&T Offers 'Mature' ECOMP as Open Source MANO.)

Both Rice and Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which hosts both the open sourcing of ECOMP and OPEN-O, spoke in general terms about possible "harmonization" of the projects going forward without providing much in the way of details or plans.

They were less shy about discussing the unique position of ECOMP, which stands for Enhanced Control Orchestration, Management and Policy, and is the software-based network service delivery framework AT&T developed, working with systems integrator Amdocs, as part of the its network virtualization effort. In a roundtable interview with Light Reading, Rice and other principal players were, as you'd expect, highly optimistic and convinced this software platform will be a major change agent in telecom industry efforts to push NFV and SDN forward.

"In my mind, it is analogous to computer operating systems," Rice said of ECOMP. "This is the network operating system for the software-defined network going forward, and it is as important in that space as Linux was in the computer space."

One way in which ECOMP stands alone, its backers say, is in its maturity. As production code, it is already running in AT&T's network -- a network in which 34% of functions are currently virtualized -- and that isn't true of OPEN-O or Open Source MANO (OSM), the two other major efforts. That gives ECOMP a maturity lacking in other options, including commercially available options.

"When we looked on the market as we started our SDN-NFV transformation, we were looking at commercial solution," says Laurent Leboucher, vice president of APIs and digital ecosystems at Orange. "It is not just about orchestration, it is the full design to orchestrate, operate and automate, the full execution. Based on what we have seen on the market, ECOMP was by far the most mature solutions we have seen on the market."

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Rice points to ECOMP's move beyond what ETSI's MANO architecture laid out to using a general VNF Manager, and a model-driven approach to encompasses all the different capabilities needed. "MANO was a good start, but we took it one step farther," he said, adding that ECOMP could very well feed its approach back upstream into ETSI.

"The model-driven approach is something you don't see today -- or you can see it but only in a limited way in commercial implementations," Laboucher said. "It is important to us."

Being model-driven means being able to give network designers and engineers the tools they need to design services and observe the network and use policies, which are then attached to the model, to automate processes, based on their observations of network behavior, Laboucher said. "It is the whole process to automate operations."

Those key tools are included in the Service Design and Create function that is part of ECOMP, said Eyal Felstaine of Amdocs, the systems integrator for AT&T on ECOMP: The tools are unique to the industry and are part of the open source contribution from AT&T.

"It provides an easy way for a network engineer or designer to create all the artifacts of the automation -- the code of the automation -- and to create the service in a manner that [means] ECOMP can react to what is going to happen," including equipment failures or fiber cuts, and automatically address the issue, said Felstaine. "I am not aware of any other solution that is doing this, and that is beside the fact that it is open source."

Unlike some open source projects -- such as Linux itself -- ECOMP didn't start off at a very small scale and ramp up, Zemlin noted, but from the outset had AT&T's financial and technical resources, which make it unique as well.

"We are seeing a confluence of organic innovation in open source and the access to hardware and infrastructure of some of the largest communities in the world," Zemlin said. "That is a tremendous sea change that will add value to this industry."

Tom Nolle, president of CIMI and veteran industry analyst, is among those saying ECOMP's cloud-based approach, adopted in large part to maintain the vendor-neutrality of AT&T's virtualization effort, comes closest to solving the underlying operations challenges behind adoption of NFV and SDN. In a separate interview earlier this year, he said participation in ECOMP "committed AT&T and the operator world to a pretty big effort, because they are alone in recognizing what a big job this is" to not only virtualize functions but automate the processes behind them.

Success for ECOMP will mean that it moves out of the AT&T realm, Rice said, and takes on true open source characteristics, meaning many other developers are engaged in identifying and solving problems and contributing code going forward. That is also where the ultimate determination is made as to which open source MANO projects succeed, he and Zemlin agreed. Companies will vote with their developer resources and funding.

"This year, it is really critical -- I am very optimistic we will get the momentum -- for service providers joining ECOMP," Rice commented. "The real challenge is to make sure that we get the right developers and we can move from a product which was created in AT&T Labs and transform it into something that is owned by the community."

Leboucher believes open source success for ECOMP will also help drive the standards process faster. "It isn't open source versus standards," he said.

ECOMP isn't set up yet to tackle some key issues such as VNF onboarding, but will be able to create the defined VNF model to which vendors can build, and that will help reduce friction in the industry and allow vendors to avoid building VNFs to match each individual network operator, both Felstaine and Leboucher said.

"Anything that reduces that friction helps move things forward faster," Felstaine said."

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

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