Was TM Forum ahead of its time with its Open Digital Architecture?

  • Network disaggregation started in Silicon Valley and has swept across the telco world
  • Now, the time is ripe for the more mature phase: standardization
  • At TM Forum's event in Copenhagen, leading telco execs talked about building networks horizontally, rather than vertically

Today, during the opening keynotes at TM Forum’s DTW: Ignite event in Copenhagen, executives from some major telcos talked about the importance of building network architectures horizontally as opposed to vertically.

Although not specifically stated, the executives seemed to be alluding to TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) framework, which is an industry-led set of standards along with certified software.

Executives participating in TM Forum's opening keynote today included leaders from Telstra, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone, which are all using ODA. The full list of global telcos that are embracing ODA is shared on TM Forum’s website.

TM Forum has been trying to push ODA for over five years, but it finally seems to be gaining some traction. ODA aims to simplify the integration between software components from different vendors, especially at the operations and business support level (OSS/BSS).

Ahead of its time?

Perhaps TM Forum was ahead of its time when it first introduced ODA?

About a decade ago, network disaggregation began, spurred by open source groups in Silicon Valley. With disaggregation, software can run on commodity hardware across different network functions, providing a lot more fluidity for network managers.

Disaggregation has since swept across the telco and enterprise IT worlds, and now the time is ripe for the more mature phase: standardization. So, it’s only appropriate to move the discussion from the Wild West in California to Europe and the TM Forum.

Fierce asked Mark Sanders, chief architect and chief product architect at Australia’s Telstra, about ODA.

He said ODA is wider and more all-encompassing than network disaggregation, and yes, it fosters a horizontal outlook as opposed to a vertical (or siloed) one. “It is a shift from building and integrating systems for specific outcomes to creating re-usable components of technology that can be assembled into outcomes,” said Sanders in an email to Fierce.

“Telstra has not only contributed to the development of ODA, but we have also embraced it as the foundation of our Telstra Reference Architecture Model (TRAM),” he said. “Over the last two years, we have been working on evolving our company-wide technology architecture to leverage a decoupled and API-driven approach.”

Telstra’s TRAM incorporates Network as a Service, IT as a Service, Data as a Service and methods to engage its customers through digital channels and products.

“ODA has fostered structured and smart technology decisions across Telstra,” said Sanders. “It has accelerated our maturity, assisted in collaboration with our suppliers and delivered an enhanced customer experience with greater speed and efficiency.”

What does Silicon Valley think?

Since the whole network disaggregation trend began in Silicon Valley with open-source groups, we checked with Ranny Haiby, CTO of Networking, Edge/IoT and Access at the Linux Foundation.

Haiby said there’s been a tendency in telecom to create vertical siloes where each workload comes with its own infrastructure. But operators are sick of that, and they’re more than ready to collapse those siloes.

The Linux Foundation has led the work on open-source network disaggregation. “Network functions tend to be the more complicated things to run on common infrastructure,” said Haiby. “If you think of vendor applications, they may not be so unique. And OSS and BSS are maybe somewhere in between.”

“The assumption is if you solve the problem of network functions, probably the same infrastructure can be used by OSS/BSS and other applications as well,” he said.

Haiby cited two Linux Foundation projects — Anuket and Sylva —  that are somewhat similar to TM Forum’s ODA. Anuket creates the specifications for telco infrastructure, and Sylva provides the reference implementation of that. “These two projects are creating solutions for unified infrastructure for all network functions and non-network functions like support systems,” said Haiby.

Asked if there was tension or competition between the open-source community and standards groups, Haiby said it was more about “cross pollination.”

He said sometimes open-source groups innovate and then things are standardized by organizations such as TM Forum or ETSI. But other times standards groups create, well, standards, and then the Linux Foundation provides the reference implementation.

“It’s not a coordinated effort because each organization has their independence, but it makes sense to follow the same trajectory,” he said.