Alan Percy at ITEXPO

Alan Percy at the panel discussion Open Source in the Service Provider Network at ITEXPO

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) got plenty of attention this last week at ITExpo in Anaheim, CA.  With a dedicated track of sessions and presentations, NFV was covered by a long list of “who’s who” in the industry.  The goal of the track was to cover many of the basic concepts of NFV, showing how the architectural benefits of moving network functions into virtualized software yields a more efficient and flexible platform for communications services, while providing guidance to service providers on deployment options. 

Open source software in CSP networks was explored during a session moderated by Peter Radizeski, Principle Consultant at RAD-INFO and joined by a panel that included Matt Bateman, Network Architect with XO Communications; Anand Buch, CEO at NetSapiens and myself.  Inspiration for the discussion came from a recent independent survey of 22 global service providers, facilitated by a third party consultant group and funded by Dialogic.  The goal of the survey was to measure the “mindset” of key decision-makers on the role of open source software in networks.

Some key observations uncovered by the survey were presented and discussed by the panel relative to where Open Source fits in a CSP network:

  • Service Providers are more willing to use Open Source in building new Internet services rather than Core Carrier Functions. 
  • Much more likely to find Open Source in IT Infrastructure (O/S, database, virtualization, storage) as opposed to Telecom-specific software
  • Open Source is more common in the lab or in proof-of-concept trials

Both Matt and Anand commented that in their experience, the core of a SP network is “not the place to be experimenting” and that expectations of reliability are vastly different between new Internet-based services and core call completion/success.

When the topic of discussion shifted to the cost of open source software, some interesting comments surfaced in the surveys:

  • The total cost of ownership (TCO) of Open Source software is not necessarily lower than commercial software – costs shift to OPEX
  • Open Source requires a commitment to staffing (internal or external) for ongoing maintenance and support
  • Big benefit of Open Source is not cost reduction, but flexibility and customization

Again, general agreement by the panel, that over the long-haul, the cost of maintaining open source software can be the same or greater than commercial software, requiring specialized skill either on-staff or on-retainer to make required maintenance and enhancements.  However, it was noted that the lower upfront costs, but higher operational expenses associated with open source does align with the business model of smaller service providers.

Other points raised in the survey results and discussion by the panel brought into question whether some of the popular open source software was originally developed with service provider applications in mind and whether open source software was the same/higher/lower quality vs. commercial software 

  • Many Open Source applications are enterprise-centric, making them hard to use in service provider deployments
  • There is no reason to believe that open source has consistently lower (or better) performance than commercial alternatives. You still get poorly written code from proprietary vendors

In summary, it seemed that open source software is making its way into telecom applications, but not across all parts of the network and not every service provider is as eager to adopt open source software in their networks.

While the final survey results used during the session have not been finalized, Dialogic will be making a copy available in a few weeks – register here to receive a copy of the Open Source in CSP Survey Report when it becomes available.