Collaboration has long been the hallmark of the telecom industry, and that core principle isn't changing in The New IP era. But the type of collaboration that this major network shift is creating does seem to be new, and it is coming largely from the operator community.
In early November, an unusual cast of service providers brought the fruits of their rather informal collaboration to the IETF as one way of delivering a vendor-neutral approach to border gateway protocol (BGP) -- an essential element for routing traffic across IP networks that has traditionally been deployed in very different ways by different service providers. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) had teamed up on this project, as part of what they are calling the OpenConfig work group. (See Google, AT&T, BT Unite on Network Data Models.)
Theirs is not the first Yang model for BGP -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) had introduced one earlier -- but the fact that this one has the backing of four major service providers means it has to be taken seriously, as does the process by which they worked together. Rather than assemble in a hotel room or conference hall somewhere, the group collaborated via a GitHub open source process, to which all four contributed code.
It was, according to Bikash Koley, chief architect of Google, a process of open conflict -- i.e., frank discussion, but done nicely and cooperatively. And having tackled what the group agreed was the most technically complex network protocol first, it is now setting its sights on MPLS and opening its process to many other participants. The next three jumping into the OpenConfig pool are expected to be Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO).
The fact that these distinctly different -- and often competitive -- service providers are working together is an indication of the urgency they feel to get key elements of The New IP in place in a way that lets them escape the single-vendor orbit.
That's not to say that vendors aren't part of the collaboration process -- they are, and always will be. As Koley himself says, vendors are needed to implement the technology for which operators are developing specifications.
And there remains a role for traditional standards practices, even if it is a different role from the past. Instead of waiting for standards, operators are pushing them forward and showing a willingness to move on their own as well, when it is in their best interests.
The one thing that doesn’t change is the need for collaboration in The New IP realm to be business case-driven and securely tied to ROI. Whether the collaborative efforts are operator-only, or operators working with their vendors -- as in many of the proofs of concept developed for NFV -- they need to be securely lashed to the financial future and survival of all parties.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading