Open source vendor Lumina Networks pulls the plug

After three years, open source vendor Lumina Networks is shutting down operations over the coming month.

In a Tuesday afternoon interview with FierceTelecom, Lumina Networks CEO Andrew Coward said the company's fortunes were hit by the double whammy of Covid-19 related issues along with the trials of being an open source vendor. Coward said that venture capitalists, along with telcos, don't typically invest in open source companies.

Founded in 2017, Lumina emerged from the breakup of Brocade with the latter's SDN controller in hand, which Brocade had spent three years developing. SDN controllers were considered a key element for service providers working toward virtualizing their networks while also keeping legacy elements in play during that transition.

Prior to the emergence of the OpenDaylight controller, along with a few additional controllers, various vendors and telcos were engaged in "controller" wars.

"This is indeed a sad day," said Roy Chua, founder and principal at AvidThink, in an email to FierceTelecom. "Lumina Networks was one of the last companies focused on finding profitable use cases for a pure-play SDN controller stack based on OpenDaylight. Their primary customers were AT&T and Verizon, for which they had sizable support contracts. They also had other carrier customers like Telstra and a couple in Europe.

"Lumina managed to evolve the SDN controller to a higher abstraction of network orchestration, and the Lumina product plays a key role in AT&T's network."

Chua said Lumina's main competitors were the orchestration vendors, though not all of them were direct competitors. Lumina overlaps with some of what Cisco does, but also Nokia, Ericsson, Ciena Blue Planet, Huawei, Amdocs, and NEC Netcracker from an orchestration standpoint, and Apstra, the latter of which is primarily data center-centric. Lumina approached orchestration more from an SDN standpoint. Inocybe, which was acquired by Kontron, also overlapped with some of the work Lumina did.

"We had concerns about the direct monetization of SDN controllers many years ago, but I was hopeful that Lumina and others in the space like Inocybe could build businesses out of the technology," said Chua. "Unfortunately, the margins from selling support on a primarily open-source SDN platform are insufficient to fund growth. Andrew Coward's been quite vocal and open about their challenge in securing significant institutional financing because of their service provider-focus.

"I suspect that the remaining team will be broken up and hired by respective carriers who need ongoing support and maintenance.  This is the unfortunate end of an era — that of the pure-play SDN controller platform."

Coward said San Jose, Calif.-based Lumina has 65 full-time employees and about 20 contractors in countries such as Australia and the U.K. Over the course of the next month or so, Coward said his primarily responsibilities include finding new jobs for Lumina's employees and selling the intellectual property of the company.

"Some of our customers are hiring our team," he said. "There's a lot of interest in our group and there's a huge amount of expertise that we've held. We're quickly reducing to a skeleton crew."

As Chua mentioned, Lumina had deployments in place with AT&T and Verizon, both of which invested in Lumina, along with a large European operator and several smaller service providers, according to Coward.

RELATED: AT&T, Verizon take part in $10M funding round for Lumina Networks

AT&T and Verizon took part in a Series A funding round in 2018 that raised $10 million as well as a $4 million funding round in September that brought the company's total investment to $14 million.

Coward said in a way, Lumina was the victim of its own success. While venture capitalists didn't want to invest in the company, other vendors took a pass because open source threatens their proprietary solutions that lead to vendor lock-in for telcos.

"We are the antithesis of what most vendors want," Coward said. "They want to lock their customers in and they want proprietary software and here we are saying this a new way of doing things by using open source. While most companies consume open source internally, they don't want to offer it in their products."

In addition to its SDN controller, the company's product offerings include Lumina Flow Manager and Lumina Zero-Touch Installer. Lumina made several announcements around software-defined core (SD-core), which includes an alternative to traditional core or MPLS routers in the network. SD-core allows network providers to use white box switches while keeping their existing core router vendors.

"I loved everything we did at Lumina for past three years, except for past week," Coward said. "My job now is to help the team find new places to live and work. I want to find something that has the same kind of adrenaline, but also the same ability to change the industry."