ONF isn’t waiting around for traditional OEMs to get their open-source act together

By investing in reference designs, operators plan to make clear to the industry what solutions they plan to procure and deploy. (Monica Alleven/Fierce Wireless)

The industry’s traditional big infrastructure vendors aren’t exactly playing ball when it comes to what a group of leading operators are looking for, so they’re taking it upon themselves to create a new supply chain around open-source and next-gen networks.

Those operators include AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Group, Telefonica and Turk Telecom, all of which are partners in the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), which today announced a new strategic plan for the ONF to move open-source, next-generation SDN solutions into production mode.

“We think it’s a unique, once-in-a-lifetime coming together of leading operators to drive the industry forward,” said Timon Sloane, VP of marketing and ecosystem at the ONF.

What the operators came up with is the decision to create what they’re calling Reference Designs (RDs) to serve as “gold standards” for combining component projects into common platforms upon which operators will build solutions. Each RD will be championed by a select group of operators and will be designed to serve as a blueprint for the industry.

By investing in reference designs, operators intend to make clear to the industry what solutions they plan to procure and deploy. The whole effort is driven by the fact that operators are ready to deploy, but the right supply chain is not yet there to deliver what they need, Sloane told FierceWirelessTech.

One of ONF’s slides sums it up. It lists under current OEM partners: Fujitsu, Huawei and Samsung, plus a fourth one undisclosed. But much of the slide has blank spots indicating there are a lot of openings for the right like-minded players in the areas of chips, next-generation ODMs, software platform providers and VNF vendors. Radisys is listed as a system integrator, Ciena as platform software provider and Intel as chip provider, but there are more opportunities for supply chain players that are willing to invest.

Asked if the likes of Nokia or Ericsson could join the movement, Sloane said their efforts so far have been very light; they’ve been watching more than contributing and the operators are not waiting around for them to change their minds. If they did come with the right mindset, that would be another thing and the operators would have to give them due consideration. But that hasn’t happened yet.

“When we started this effort, we were hopeful the OEMs would really step up and start to deliver based on open-source platforms, but honestly, they haven’t been stepping up” and investing as aggressively as the operators would like and demand, he said. “Our focus here is on building with suppliers that really believe in the vision of white box and open source.”

The group is open to other operators joining their efforts, but it’s not necessary. “We believe we have critical mass for what we need right now,” he said. “We are an open community, as long as participants who are coming in are of a like-minded goal, then yes, for sure. This is a large industrywide movement.”

He noted that it’s a huge transformation for the industry. “This is an opportunity to be at the forefront of this transformation and to carve out a piece of this new supply chain,” he said. “This is the time to step up.”

The ONF also announced an updated governance structure to enable execution of the plan. A new Technical Leadership Team, Supplier Advisory Team and Reference Design Teams now augment the existing Project Technical Steering Teams and Use Case Steering Team. The new governance doesn’t mean anybody is getting edged out, just that it’s expanding, according to Sloane.

Operators are currently considering a few areas of focus for their Reference Designs, including fixed and mobile broadband access, leaf-spine data center fabrics, multiaccess edge, 5G solutions at the edge and a continued push so the industry can realize the full potential of software-defined networks.

“We think it’s a landmark moment for this industry,” Sloane said. “To have these players coming together at this level and making such clear statements and investing so much more of their own resources and commitment to … we think we will look back at this moment in time and this will have been a landmark moment.”