Wireline embraces open source slower than wireless: Special Report

For the most part wireless operators have embraced the move to virtualized networks and away from closed proprietary systems because they realize it’s necessary if they want to stay competitive, keep their costs in check, and be able to deploy new services rapidly. But many of their wireline counterparts in the telecom world are moving at a slower pace.

The topic of open source in telecom will be discussed as part of a free, virtual event - Telecom Blitz week - June 15-18.

“Wireline and cable operators are at different maturity levels,” said Marisa Viveros, vice president of strategy and offerings, telecommunications, media and entertainment at IBM. “OpenStack is well adopted by cable and wireline …. But we still have some more work to do in getting open source projects widely deployed.”

Viveros added that while some wireline companies are slower to adopt open source, they are participating in the open source community and learning about it. And many are starting to include open source options into their request for proposals (RFPs).

Viveros noted that OpenStack, the open source cloud computing project that controls large pools of compute, storage, and network resources, is being used as the core operating system for many operators including Comcast, but she believes that the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) project is not in as high of demand. “We don’t see as much adoption,” she said.

RELATED: OpenStack, no longer the rebel, scrambles to stay relevant

Kevin McBride, principal architect at CenturyLink, said that CORD was something the company has worked with but mainly through its existing vendors. The operator isn’t a member of CORD and doesn’t believe it needs to play a big role in the project. “We had some stuff in SDN [software-defined networking] already and had made some huge transitions that were ahead of CORD.” 

Making inroads

Wireline and cable players may have been slower than wireline to embrace open source, but they are committed to making the transition. Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystem at the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), said that the industry is starting to make open source moves. He pointed to ONF’s Virtual OLT Hardware Abstraction (VOLTHA), an open source project dedicated to creating a hardware abstraction for broadband access equipment.

He said that like other disaggregated solutions, VOLTHA’s goal is to give service providers the ability to use lower-cost white box OLTs from a multi-vendor ecosystem and move away from chassis-built systems from large vendors like Huawei or Nokia and toward a white box PON.

RELATED: Open Networking Foundation unveils new open source edge and cloud platform

Sloane added that telecom companies like AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica have all been very public about their projects and that studies are showing that operators that move in the open source direction will see significant cost savings. “The open source movement is around how to disrupt the ecosystem and bring in more innovation and deliver better price points and a flexible architecture,” he said. 

CenturyLink’s open source ambitions

CenturyLink was one wireline operator that was early to embrace open source software and OpenStack. McBride said that the company saw some of the advancements that Google was making with enterprises and decided that it needed to move away from the ATM and frame relay architecture that wireline operators had been using since the late 1980s. “With a national footprint, it was hard to provide continuity of services” using those older technologies, McBride said.

For CenturyLink, the OpenStack cloud computing project was an opportunity to leverage some investments the company had already made in network functions virtualization (NFV). Specifically, McBride said that using OpenStack allowed the company to exploit the use of bare metal workloads and spin up resources when needed. 
He noted that while there are a lot of OpenStack vendors that CenturyLink could work with, the company decided to do a combination of buying and building its own open source software and then contributing it to open source communities.

McBride added that CenturyLink does leverage some parts of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), which is an open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation that was created by merging two other open source projects E-COMP and Open-Orchestrator (Open-O). ONAP’s goal is to develop a platform for orchestrating and automating physical and virtual network elements. “We take tools from ONAP that were missing from our service architecture and use those components.”

Containers or virtual machines?

While service providers can benefit from running their services in the cloud by using either virtual machines or containers, many are starting to see the benefits of using containers. According to Viveros, containers provide a lightweight view for applications and allow for greater portability. “Operators want to avoid vendor lock-in, and platform independence is a key driver for them to move into containers.”

RELATED: VMware to buy Kubernetes security startup Octarine

Sloane added that all ONF architectures are running Kubernetes and containers and that service providers will want to use containers if they want to be nimble and deploy features more quickly.

CenturyLink’s McBride said that his company is using containers in its global cloud. 

Staffing dilemmas

Perhaps the biggest hold up to wireline and cable operators making more advancements in open source is due to staffing difficulties. Viveros said that she believes that smaller operators don’t have the workforce available to dedicate to participating in open source projects. That’s why she thinks there will be a role for systems integrators that can help operators with complex projects.

Sloane added that many service providers are held up by organizational issues and he agrees that system integrators may have a big opportunity in helping operators made this transformation.

Wireline and cable operators may be in various stages of embracing open source technologies, but the transition is necessary if they want to stay competitive.