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The service provider market is undergoing earth-shaking changes. These changes impact the way that applications for consumers and business users are deployed in the network and cloud as well as the way that the underlying data transport networks are built.

At Lumina, we’ve had the chance to work with several large service providers on their software transformation initiatives and get an up-close look at what works and what doesn’t. Three factors are particularly favorable in setting up successful projects for frictionless progress from the lab through prototype and proof of concept and into the production network.

Top-Down Advantage

Our first observation is that top-down initiatives and leadership work better than bottom-up or “grass roots” approaches. The experience of AT&T strongly illustrates the advantage. While a few of the hyperscale cloud providers had already launched open source initiatives and projects, the first big move among the established service providers was AT&T’s Domain 2.0, led by John Donovan in 2013. Domain 2.0 was not a precise description of everything that AT&T wanted to do, but through that initiative, the leadership created an environment where transformative projects are embraced and resistance to change is pushed aside.

While lack of top down support is not a showstopper, it is extremely helpful to get past obstacles and overcome organizational resistance to change. If top-down support in your organization is lacking or weak, it is worth your effort to influence and educate your executives. In engaging executives focus on the business value of open software networking. The advantages of open source in software networks include eliminating lock-in and spurring innovation. As our CEO, Andrew Coward, wrote in his recent blog, Why Lumina Networks? Why Now?: “Those who build their own solutions—using off-the-shelf components married to unique in-house developed functionality—build-in the agility and options for difference that are necessary to stay ahead.”

Although it may create a slower start, from what we have seen, taking the time to do early PoCs to onboard executive support so that they deeply attach to the value is time well worth spent. Sometimes a slow start is just what is needed to move fast.

Collaboration through Open Source

The second observation is that industry collaboration can work. I read an interesting comment by Radhika Venkatraman, senior vice president and CIO of network and technology at Verizon, in her interview with SDxCentral. She said, “We are trying to learn from the Facebooks and Googles about how they did this.” One of the best ways to collaborate with other thought leaders in the industry is to join forces within the developer community at open source projects. The Linux Foundation’s OpenDaylight Project includes strong participation from both the vendor community and global service providers including AT&T, Alibaba Group, Baidu, China Mobile, Comcast and Tencent. Tencent, for one, has over 500 million subscribers that utilize their OpenDaylight infrastructure, and they are contributing back to the community as are many others.

A great recent example of industry collaboration is the newly announced ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform) project. Here, the origins of the project have roots in work done by AT&T, China Mobile and others. And now, we have a thriving open source developer community consisting of engineers and innovators who may not have necessarily collaborated in the past.

These participants see benefits of collaboration not only to accelerate innovation but also to build the software run time across many different types of environments and use cases so as to increase reliability. Providers recognize that in their transformation to software networks there’s much they can do together to drive technology, while using how they define and deliver services to stand out from each other in the experiences created for customers.

What about your organization? Do you engage in the OpenDaylight community? Have you explored how ONAP can help you? Do you use OpenStack in your production network? And importantly, do you engage in the discussions and share back what you learn and develop?

Pursuit of Innovation

A third observation is the growing ability for service providers to create and innovate at levels not seen before. A prime example here is the work done by CenturyLink to develop Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter platform to deliver DSL services running on OpenDaylight. CenturyLink used internal software development teams along with open source and Agile approaches to create and deploy CORD as part of a broad software transformation initiative.

One might have thought that you would only see this level of innovation at Google, Facebook or AWS, but at Lumina we are seeing this as an industry-wide trend. The customer base, business model, and operations of service providers vary widely from one to another based on their historical strengths and legacy investment. All have an opportunity to innovate in a way that advances their particular differences and competitive advantages.

Closing Thoughts

So we encourage you to get on the bandwagon! Don’t stand on the sidelines. A combination of leadership, collaboration and innovation are the ingredients you need to help your organization drive the software transformation needed to stay competitive. There is no other choice.

Stay tuned for my next blog where we will discuss some of the specifics of the advantages, development and innovation using open source.

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