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LF Networking became a catalyst for the telecom industry by creating an umbrella project under which various players can contribute and enrich the technologies involved.

The telecom industry is at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution. Whether it’s connected IoT devices or mobile entertainment, the modern economy runs on the Internet.

However, the backbone of networking has been running on legacy technologies. Some telecom companies are centuries old, and they have a massive infrastructure that needs to be modernized.

The great news is that this industry is already at the forefront of emerging technologies. Companies such as AT&T, Verizon, China Mobile, DTK, and others have embraced open source technologies to move faster into the future. And  LF Networking is at the heart of this transformation.

“2018 has been a fantastic year,” said Arpit Joshipura, General Manager of Networking at Linux Foundation, speaking at Open Source Summit in Vancouver last fall. “We have seen a 140-year-old telecom industry move from proprietary and legacy technologies to open source technologies with LF Networking.”

Now LF Networking has more than 100 members, which represent ~70% of the global subscribers of these telecom players. These members are actively participating in software development at LF Networking. They are collaborating on existing projects, and they are contributing their own in-house code to the foundation and releasing it as open source.

For example, AT&T contributed their own work on virtual networks as ONAP to the Linux Foundation. The project is now being used by in production by other companies, and AT&T in return is benefitting from the work the competitors are doing to improve the code base.

“Over $500 million worth of software innovation, in terms of value, has been created in the open source community,” said Joshipura. “We can now safely say that the telecom industry is going to use open source that is based out of Linux Foundation to build their next generation networks.

Telecom Transformation

What’s incredible about this transformation within the telecom industry is that unlike other industries where developers drive the change, here top leadership has advocated for change all the way down.

LF Networking became a catalyst to help the industry by creating an umbrella project under which various players can gather, contribute, and enrich the technologies involved.

The primary focus of LF Networking at the moment is to see more and more of these technologies in production. “But our next goal is to see how networking enables what we call cross-project collaboration, cross-industry collaboration, cross-community collaboration. How does blockchain impact telcos, how can telcos go cloud-native with Kubernetes… and so on,” said Joshipura.

One of the most promising areas for the networking community is edge computing, as seen in the recent creation of the new LF Edge umbrella project. There is a lot of innovation happening in the space — 5G, autonomous driving, and so on.  “Our focus is on figuring out how do these projects come together and collaborate so that there’s more value to our end users, to our members,” he said.

The Linux Foundation has a wide range of projects, many of which are building code individually. Joshipura wants these projects to collaborate closely.  “We have the concept of VNF (Virtual Network Functions). How do we make them cloud-native? We created a project called CNF (Cloud Native network Functions), but we need to work with the ONAP community, networking community, and Kubernetes community to solve some of the problems that the networking community is facing,” he said.

With its current momentum and community support, LF Networking is on track to lead the way.

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Learn about the principles required to achieve a successful industry pivot to open source.

Linux and open source have changed the computer industry (among many others) forever.  Today, there are tens of millions of open source projects. A valid question is “Why?” How can it possibly make sense to hire developers that work on code that is given away for free to anyone who cares to take it?  I know of many answers to this question, but for the communities that I work in, I’ve come to recognize the following as the common thread.

An Industry Pivot

Software has become the most important component in many industries, and it is needed in very large quantities. When an entire industry needs to make a technology “pivot,” they often do as much of that as possible in software. For example, the telecommunications industry must make such a pivot in order to support 5G, the next generation of mobile phone network.  Not only will the bandwidth and throughput be increased with 5G, but an entirely new set of services will be enabled, including autonomous cars, billions of Internet-connected sensors and other devices (aka IoT), etc.  To do that, telecom operators need to entirely redo their networks distributing millions of compute and storage instances very, very close to those devices/users.

Given the drastic changing usage of the network, operators need to be able to deploy, move and/or tear-down services near instantaneously running them on those far-flung compute resources and route the network traffic to and through those service applications in a fully automated fashion. That’s a tremendous amount of software.  In the “old” model of complete competition, each vendor would build their solution to this customer need from the ground up and sell it to their telecom operator customers. It would take forever, cost a huge amount of money, and the customers would be nearly assured that one vendor’s system wouldn’t interoperate with another vendor’s solution.  The market demands solutions that don’t take that long or cost that much and, if they don’t work together, their value is much less for the customer.

So, instead, all the members of the telecom industry, both vendors and customers are collaborating to build a large portion of the foundational platform software together, just once.  Then, each vendor and operator will take that foundation of code and add whatever functionality they feel is differentiating for their customers, test it, harden it, and turn it into a full solution. This way, everyone gets to a solution much more quickly and with much less expense than would otherwise be possible. The mutual benefit of this is obvious. But how can they work together? How can they ensure that each participant in this community can get out of it what they need to be successful? These companies have never worked together before. Worse yet, they are fierce lifelong competitors with the only prior goal of putting the other out of business.

A Level Playing Field

This is what my team does at The Linux Foundation. We create and maintain that level playing field. We are both referee and janitor. We teach what we have learned from the long-term success of the Linux project, among others. Stay tuned for more blog posts detailing those principles and my experiences living those principles both as a participant in open source projects and as the referee.

So, bringing dozens of very large, fierce competitors, both vendors and customers, together and seeding the development effort with several million lines of code that usually only come from one or two companies is the task at hand.  That’s never been done before by anyone. The set of projects under the Linux Foundation Networking umbrella is one large experiment in corporate collaborative development. Take ONAP as an example; its successful outcome is not assured in any way.  Don’t get me wrong. The project has had an excellent start with three releases under its belt, and in general, things are going very well. However, there is much work to do and many ways for this community, and the organizations behind it, to become more efficient, and get to our end goal faster.  Again, such a huge industry pivot has not been done as an open source collaboration before. To get there, we are applying the principles of fairness, technical excellence, and transparency that are the cornerstone of truly collaborative open source development ecosystems. As such, I am optimistic that we will succeed.

This industry-wide technology pivot is not isolated to the telecom sector.  We are seeing it in many others. My goal in writing these articles on open source collaborative development principals, best practices, and experiences is to better explain to those new to this model, how it works, why these principals are in place and what to expect when things are working well, and when they are not.  There are a variety of non-obvious behaviors that organizational leaders need to adopt and instill in their workforce to be successful in one of these open source efforts. I hope these articles will give you the tools and insight to help you facilitate this culture shift within your organization.

At the recent Open Networking Summit, the SDN/NFV community convened in Santa Clara to share, learn, collaborate, and network about one of the most pervasive industry transformations of our time.

This year’s theme at ONS was “Harmonize, Harness, and Consume,” representing a significant turning point as network operators spanning telecommunications, cable, enterprise, cloud, and the research community renew their efforts to redefine the network architecture.

Widespread new technology adoption takes years to succeed, and requires close collaboration among those producing network technology and those consuming it. Traditionally, standards development organizations (SDOs) have played a critical role in offering a forum for discussion and debate, and well-established processes for systematically standardizing and verifying new technologies.

Introduction of largely software (vs. hardware) functionality necessitates a rethinking of the conventional technology adoption lifecycle. In a software driven world, it is infeasible to define a priori complex reference architectures and software platforms without a more iterative approach. As a result, industry has been increasingly turning to open source communities for implementation expertise and feedback.

In this new world order, closer collaboration among the SDOs, industry groups, and open source projects is needed to capitalize upon each constituent’s strengths:

  • SDOs provide operational expertise and well-defined processes for technology definition, standardization, and validation
  • Industry groups offer innovative partnerships between network operators and their vendors to establish open reference architectures that are guiding the future of the industry
  • Open source projects provide technology development expertise and infrastructure that are guided by end-user use cases, priorities, and requirements

Traditionally each of these groups operates relatively autonomously, liaising formally and informally primarily for knowledge sharing.

Moving ahead, close coordination is essential to better align individual organizations objectives, priorities, and plans. SDN/NFV are far too pervasive for any single group to own or drive. As a result, the goal is to capitalize upon the unique strengths of each to accelerate technology adoption.

It is in the spirit of such harmonization that The Linux Foundation is pleased to unveil an industry-wide call to action to achieve this goal.

As a first step, we are issuing a white paper, “Harmonizing Open Source and Standards in the Telecom World,” to outline the key concepts, and invite an unprecedented collaboration among the SDOs, open source projects, and industry groups that each play a vital role in the establishment of a sustainable ecosystem which is essential for success.

The introduction of The Linux Foundation Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) is a tangible step in the direction of harmonization, not only merging OPEN-O and the open source ECOMP communities, but also establishing a platform that by its nature as an orchestration and automation platform, must inherently integrate with a diverse set of standards, open source projects, and reference architectures.

We invite all in the community to participate in the process, in a neutral environment, where the incentives for all are to work together vs. pursue their own paths.

Join us to usher in a new era of collaboration and convergence to reshape the future.

Download the Whitepaper