Snowflake telecom chief: telcos want open integration, not open source

  • Open source solutions require quite a bit of work to maintain, Snowflake told Fierce
  • That's why telcos are increasingly looking for plug-and-play open integration capabilities
  • Data stored in open formats can also open the door to data sharing and collaboration

Open RAN. Open APIs. There’s a whole lot of talk about openness in the telecom industry. But according to Phil Kippen, global head of Telecom at data storage cloud Snowflake, while this is often conflated with “open source,” what telcos are really looking for is open integration.

Kippen explained there’s an important distinction between the two. Open source, he said, requires operators to contribute to and maintain the product’s code. Open integration, in contrast, just provides a common environment that any vendor can plug into and interconnect through.

“Open source can sometimes complicate things,” he told Fierce. “Many providers are like ‘look, I don’t want to maintain a bunch of open source platforms.’ We dealt with the same thing [in my previous role] at VMware” with OpenStack.

So, what does any of this have to do with Snowflake? Well, the data cloud company is working to provide the open integration capabilities telcos are looking for through products like its Iceberg tables. These allow operators to build interoperable tables based on an open standard and pull data from other Iceberg tables in third party clouds.

“Data lakes have always been ‘let’s create an entire data lake and we’ll let vendors integrate into it.’ This is a bit different,” Kippen said. “This is open out of the box from the start. And what it does is allow the service provider to very easily build those Iceberg tables and then some service providers are asking us to bring in on-prem Iceberg tables and move them into the cloud, which is going to save them money on transport and data.”

Data sharing

But Snowflake isn’t just looking to make it easier for operators to use their data internally. The company also runs a Marketplace where enterprises and operators can actually share their data with one another. 

Why would they want to do that? Well, Kippen said for instance operators can glean best practices by analyzing one another’s supply chain and logistics data. Or a company like OneWeb could put its satellite data in the marketplace and potentially draw interest from operators looking to fill coverage gaps.

Another perk of sharing data is that it allows operators to explore “the art of the possible” using concrete inputs from potential enterprise customers. Think of it as a ‘help us help you’ kind of exchange between operators and enterprises.

Although it’s already secured some buy in from the likes of OneWeb and Telia, Kippen acknowledged that convincing risk-averse and highly-competitive operators to share their data is “definitely not easy.” And it probably won't get easier anytime soon given what's happening with Ticketmaster. But he thinks it’s something worth spending time on.

“Service providers have been asking for the ability to do more with enterprises. It’s not a monetization focus, it’s ‘how do I help my customers, what data would help me help my customers?’” he explained. “I think we’re just scratching the surface with respect to service providers sharing with other service providers or to enterprises.”