CMMA17: Telcos need open source, but many still don’t get it

open source
COME IN, WE'RE OPEN SOURCE: Broadband Forum CEO Robin Mersh

The Broadband Forum says it is making good headway on Cloud Central Office (CloudCO), the first project in its overall attempt to marry broadband access technologies and open source, but it hasn’t been easy, admits forum CEO Robin Mersh – not least because telcos are still wary of open-source, and in some cases don’t really grasp the concept.

The CloudCO projects – which encompass architecture and hardware, as well as software implementation and migration – represent one of the first use cases for the BBF’s recently launched Open Broadband initiative to bring open-source groups to the table to participate in integrating and testing of broadband-related services. Preparations to stage and test implementations are also under way at the BBF’s Open Broadband Lab, in Asia, announced earlier this month.

CloudCO is essentially a generic version of CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter), an open-source initiative that aims to leverage NFV, SDN, and commodity clouds to turn COs into data centers, with all the related economics and flexibilities therein. Mersh says the BBF was inspired by CORD, but from a standards-building point of view, it isn’t quite up to scratch in terms of documentation, interoperability and certain technology decisions (like using ONOS for an SDN controller, for example).

“CloudCO started with us looking at how to map CORD to a current legacy network – what interfaces you’d need to coexist and then eventually migrate. But then we had an epiphany that a more effective approach is to take a more generic view of CloudCO,” Mersh told Disruptive.Asia.

The object isn’t to rewrite CORD so much as how to make it work with existing technologies and glue it all together: “Where do you need APIs, how do you do it with legacy, how do you plug it into commercial VNFs?”

As with any standards effort, disagreements abound, although Mersh notes that bringing open-source groups into the already contentious operator-vendor mix adds an extra element of tension to the discussion.

“The open source guys all have their own agenda, and they all speak a different [cultural] language,” Mersh says. “They’re all basically vendors selling a product, and you have commercial [network] vendors saying this is basically a competing platform to me. So it’s more complicated.”

An additional complication, he adds, is that telcos are not exactly embracing the open-source trend as much as they perhaps should be.

“This idea that operators are going into a mad rush into open-source just isn’t true,” he says. “Certainly some are more aggressive, but when you talk to some of the smaller operators, especially in emerging markets, you talk to them about a multi-vendor approach, and they give you a look. One operator I talked to recently said, ‘We have two vendors we work with, so we sort of have a multi-vendor approach, but what we actually did is divide up the country into regions, and we gave one to one vendor and one to the other vendor,’ and you know, that’s not quite what we think multi-vendor is.”

Another challenge in bringing open-source groups into a telecoms standards body is the relative lack of discipline in the former.

“You need that discipline because then you coalesce around requirements, and then you also write good documents – you produce best-practice guides, you have the rules of the road that come with those pieces of software,” Mersh explains. “Whereas what happens with open source is that they pretty much just dump the software and you have to work it out for yourself.”

Mersh says that was one of the motivations behind the BBF’s recent opening of the Open Broadband Lab: to create a permanent facility to serve as a neutral sandbox for open source groups to have a place where they can work with operators and vendors who have networking expertise, work out their differences and learn from each other.

“We wanted to bring that more disciplined approach to the work, but also bring in a more agile way of working. This is our first attempt to marry standards and DevOps. And,” Mersh adds with a grin, “we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen.”

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