Software ecosystems in operator networks

Dimitris Mavrakis/Informa Telecoms & Media
31 Oct 2013

The Broadband World Forum conference has come a long way from its adolescent years, when optical and copper network components were the usual topic of conversation. The context of the BBWF conference has grown to include all things broadband including technologies and concepts that will drive the delivery of data. So this year’s BBWF was no different: the main topic of discussion was the application of SDN and virtualization in the telco network.

Every major vendor at the show announced new elements of an existing SDN/virtualization strategy or launched new products based on these two concepts. Tier-1 vendors continued to market their support for SDN/virtualization and several smaller vendors announced support for either SDN or the ability to virtualize using either ATCA or x86 platforms.

An interesting new concept was presented by Ericsson, titled “network slicing”. This is essentially the ability to offer a complete virtual network to clients which may support SLAs and can include access, core, transport, service provisioning and even billing functionality. In the context of enterprise services, this places telecoms operators in a very good position when full network SLAs may be possible. Network slicing may be a hint of things to come with SDN/virtualization concepts in the telco network, e.g. segmenting the network for different uses or separating networks for vertical segments or large clients.

Vendor ecosystems

But the most interesting aspect of BBWF was that vendors are starting to establish software ecosystems around their products, some of them being open source, others closed. Alcatel-Lucent’s CloudBand ecosystem, Juniper Networks’ OpenContrail and Intel’s Network Builders are examples when a vendor is attracting third party vendors to their platform and creating more value by opening parts of their product or technology.

Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper Networks are aiming to enhance the value of their networking components and be able to orchestrate multi-vendor networks, while Intel aims to promote the use of chipsets in networking hardware with the use of the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK). Other vendors are also starting to define ecosystems, most of them closed and in order to build value around their core business.

Why now?

A prime example of ecosystem success is the value brought to both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android through third party, individual developers. The same model cannot be reproduced in network infrastructure, although in the far future it may be possible that individual developers may create software to enhance the operation and value of network infrastructure. For the time being, vendor ecosystems aim to on-board smaller vendors that would otherwise find difficult to attract operator attention, or interface with best-of-breed vendors that provide technology for other parts of the networks, parts that the ecosystem host cannot provide.

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