The telecom network has been largely the same for, oh say, the last 25 years, and over the next 20 years we can expect it to shift, change and mirror the data center and enterprise world in terms of the way systems are architected. So said many speakers at Light Reading's NFV & the Data Center event in Santa Clara, Calif., earlier this week. (See The Beginning of a 20-Year Journey.)
But where there is change and chaos, there is opportunity -- opportunity for individuals, suppliers and service providers (traditional and OTT) alike -- and serious competition. This opportunity is putting real pressure on traditional service providers to embrace something they are not used to: openness.
It's true that with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) already pulling fiber and snagging customers (who don't seem to mind the lack of a dial tone as one speaker noted at the event), traditional telcos are facing competition far beyond that of the CLECs in the late 90s (the Olden Days). They know they have to take more risks, and in the case of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN), they have taken the lead with European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) , which is really unprecedented.
Anne-Louise Kardas, manager of staff operations and emerging opportunities for Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), expressed it best this week when she said: "The telecom industry has been forced to change. It's embracing the open innovation movement probably faster than other industries now… it's not the dinosaur it used to be."
Indeed, the thought of taking all the telecom functionality and putting it onto servers has energized the industry to move toward the era of open systems with customer-centric designs rather than vendor-centric ones. Deploying hardware in an open strategy will be crucial, noted Marc Cohn, chairman of the Open Networking Foundation Market Education Committee, at NFV & the Data Center.
While virtualized functionality that can deliver five-nines are not well defined yet, and concerns of the security and reliability abound, the support behind "open" initiatives has really taken off. The key is going to be the ability to provide a more dynamic network that offers cloud-like elasticity and do it an open, vendor-neutral environment. "There is a lot more to the network than a switch," said Kelly Herrell, VP and GM of software networking at Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), in Santa Clara. "Increasingly as software functionality leaves the hardware, you are going to see a multi-vendor environment."
That said, here are my questions for you to mull over during your weekend chores: What do you think are the most critical considerations when it comes to hardware and software supporting NFV? Is it openness? Automation? Agility? Mobility? Manageability? All of the above? (See If It Ain't Automated, You're Doing It Wrong.)
As Cohen said, "It's not just about creating higher performance hardware; it's about big picture changes on the horizon." So what do you think those big picture changes will be? What opportunities are out there that people aren't talking about?
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP