The head of Nokia’s software business is very much a believer in open source, which might come as a surprise to some considering the telecom vendor’s deep ties to proprietary software.
Of course, “open source does not mean free,” said Bhaskar Gorti, president of Applications & Analytics at Nokia. “Open source, in fact, if anything, is a great opportunity for us to increase our R&D velocity.”
Many open source components exist in the world—but most of them have been built for a generic IT environment, not a telco grade, and that’s what a lot of people are looking to get from Nokia. VMware and Red Hat are among its partners.
Suggestions have been made that maybe the “five 9s” reliability that telecom is known for doesn’t have to always be the case in this new world dominated by SDN and NFV. The “five 9s” generally refers to the infrastructure working 99.999% of the time, a key tenet of telecom service level agreements (SLAs).
For Gorti, there’s no wiggle room there: Nokia’s providing five 9s reliability, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. Its customers have far too many customers to support themselves to consider anything else. “Five 9s is a must,” he said, noting that webscale companies have the benefit of being able to design their networks with very little legacy equipment to manage.
Gorti came to Nokia through its acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent, where he oversaw the business units that developed the very technologies for cloud-based networking and virtualization, including NFV. In fact, the company’s heritage goes back to Bell Labs, where the very early work on virtualization technologies took place years ago. Gorti is based in San Jose, California, where he oversees one of the six divisions within Nokia.
There has been some talk about how open source will get along with standards. ONAP was formed through The Linux Foundation via the merger of AT&T’s ECOMP and the foundation’s own Open-O initiative. Open Source MANO is an ETSI-hosted project to develop an Open Source NFV Management and Orchestration (MANO) software stack aligned with ETSI NFV.
Nokia backs both. Its entire NFV/VNF orchestration is 100% compatible with ETSI, and it’s a Platinum member of ONAP. Gorti doesn’t consider these two as competing.
“I think there are benefits in both of them at this point for us and we are participating in both of them. I don’t see them as conflicting,” he said. “I see them as either they are complementing or they are solving a different kind of a problem.” One of them is standards-based and that’s in Nokia’s DNA—it’s the author of many standards itself.
At the same time, Nokia is involved in a lot of open source initiatives, including the Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project (TIP). The real benefit of open source is tapping into a much broader community of innovation and development, Gorti said, but at the end of the day, you still have to deploy, operate and manage these systems, and many of the generic open source systems can’t deliver on five 9s, “so you have to harden them” and provide security and intelligence into it, he said. “All these are add-on capabilities for which there is clear monetary value.”
That said, folks use the term “open” with a lot of liberty. The way Nokia looks at open source is, first, there has to be a community and something that others can build applications on top of. “If nobody in the world adopts it, nobody builds on it, if there’s not a thriving ecosystem, then it is not truly open,” he said.
Nokia’s own CloudBand software is an ETSI NFV MANO system and it has an ecosystem of partners attached to it. Three UK, Vodafone, LG U+, Wind Mobile, Burkina Faso and others use CloudBand for voice over LTE, evolved packet core, multisite NFV platforms, dynamic enterprise services and government cloud.
Building the software business at Nokia is not just about building the portfolio, but it’s also about transforming the company’s operations and organization, Gorti said. As part of the Alcatel-Lucent acquisition, Nokia picked up a key SDN subsidiary in Nuage Networks.
“We’re continuously looking for innovation not just inside the company. Of course we partner, but also when appropriate, where there’s a strategic fit, we also want to bring assets in from outside,” similar to how earlier this year it brought Comptel into the organization for a tighter R&D and go-to-market strategy.