This post contains excerpts from Lumina Networks CEO Andrew Coward’s interview with TelecomTV.
The original source can be found here.
Network functions virtualization is on the rise, but not in the way that many thought. TelecomTV sat down with several industry leaders to discuss the future of NFV and SDN, and the role it will play in business technology and transformation in the years to come.
Lumina doesn’t believe in selling turnkey solutions, but also doesn’t believe in leaving the introduction and integration of its products to the CSP. We believe that we can serve as the catalyst for a company’s digital transformation initiatives, helping out on the heavy lifting while teaching our customers how to manage their network from the core to the edge and think outside the (hardware) box. By working closing with a CSP’s internal NetDev team to give them the tools they need to succeed, we set them up to win the long-term process of transformation without sacrificing short-term gains.
“[We] soon came to realize that our market could be divided into early adopters and laggards. CSPs’ likely willingness (or not) to engage properly in this way could be gauged by how diligently they approached things like a [request for proposal],” he says. “We found this created a self-selection process for us because the ones that asked the right questions were more receptive to us and more willing to “play catch” with some of the open source projects.”
However some went the other way, saying “We don’t need any help, we’re going to do everything ourselves and manage everything. But inevitably some of those customers found it was a Herculean task to do all the integration, manage the new open source code, compile it, keep it reliable and keep up with the changes.”
So some of those companies that had originally struck out on their own subsequently had a change of strategy and came back saying, “You know what, it doesn’t make sense for us to manage the relationship with open source or adding new features when you guys can do that.”
That turned out to be a viable business model for Lumina. “On one level we help with the integration, but what we really do is provide abstraction,” claims Andrew. “With SDN we’re trying to separate the business logic of the carrier – which defines the services – from the underlying hardware and from the vendors […].
“The great thing is that everything that gets built gets put back into the community and makes the job much easier the next time around.”
The abstraction layer also hopefully avoids the CSP customer accruing what’s known as ‘technical debt’. That occurs when devices are integrated directly or tactically (without an abstraction layer) creating a debt that will have to be paid back with interest in integration difficulties later.
“Five years ago we didn’t comprehend the need for CSP culture change to enable transformation,” says Andrew. “But things have changed greatly with SDNFV over the past four years especially. The industry has had to move from a science project through to ‘available in the lab’ and then to something that could be deployable. In the great scheme of things I think we’ve moved remarkably quickly on the open source side of things to make that happen.”
Most importantly it’s turned out that the industry wasn’t – as it perhaps at first thought – introducing a new technical framework and, ‘Oh by the way, you might have to change how you do things a little’. It now looks as though we’re introducing new ways of engaging with customers software, services and suppliers with some necessary and useful technology coming along for the ride. Culture change in other words, has become the prize, not the price.
There’s no doubt the process has been slower than thought. Why?
Andrew thinks “a lot of stuff got stuck in the labs and there was a feeling that everything had to be new.” In too many cases that appeared to mean white boxes needed to replace legacy hardware and there was a feeling that “before we can adopt this technology we need to put data centres in,” Andrew maintains.
“Actually, on the SDN side it’s predominantly all about the existing equipment. So not about replacing, but making the ‘physical’ equipment work with the new virtual environment,” he says.
Another reason software might stay in the lab might be a pervasive fear of ‘failure’ on the part of many CSPs, somewhat at odds with the IT “fail fast” credo. Allied to this can be a reluctance to upgrade the network – in sharp contrast to the constant upgrading undertaken by the hyperscale players many carriers would like to emulate.
Overcoming the upgrade phobia would help the new software ‘escape the lab’ on a more timely basis says Andrew.
“We’re looking for customers who have captured this technology and understand what it is they want to do. Typically they have stuff in the labs and they now want to get it out and they need a partner to help them do that. They don’t want to hand the task off to an outsourcing company because they’ll lose the learnings that they have and they won’t be in control of the outcomes. So they want to keep doing it but they know they need some expertise to help them with that process.”
Lumina Networks is proud to be a partner for the Linux Foundation. We will be exhibiting our industry-leading SD Controller at the Open Networking Summit next week in Los Angeles, and look forward to meeting with attendees to help them learn how to get the most out of the network and start on the path toward full digital transformation and business digitization.