It used to be that operators in the U.S. turned to Red Hat for their IT department needs, but for the past several years Red Hat has been increasingly involved on the network side of their businesses.
With the emphasis on NFV and open source, Red Hat is becoming an increasingly significant player in the wireless space. “In the past few years, we’ve had interactions with every operator in the U.S.,” in some form or another, said Ian Hood, Red Hat's chief technologist and global service provider, in an interview with Fierce.
Publicly, of course, the company is limited on which customers it can disclose. In the U.S., Verizon has openly participated in Red Hat’s OpenStack Summits and talked about its NFV deployments, for example.
But pretty much everywhere you go, Red Hat is in the mix. On the relationship side with communication service providers, “it’s becoming much stronger,” Hood said, due in part to a concerted effort on Red Hat’s part a few years ago to build a separate vertical withing the company focused specifically on helping communication service providers on the network side of the house.
On the whole, service providers would prefer to use as much open source as possible, he said. They want innovation and multiple vendors to break the vendor lock-in that has pervaded the industry for so many years.
But there are different kinds of open source. There’s community open source where you’re basically on your own to look after it, and operators use a lot of that to do research and test things out. But once it goes to deployment, they need someone like Red Hat to support it fully for them. “We have varying levels of who’s supporting their own versus who’s using us to support it,” he said.
“The reality is that if you look at the stack from the bottom to the top, the bottom pieces are very open,” he said.
Granted, some issues still exist in the hardware itself with propriety products, but they’re close. Once you move above those layers, to SDN, orchestration, et cetera, those haven’t gotten solidified with supported distributions in the open source community so in essence, operators are selecting proprietary implementations from network partners for things like SDN, orchestration and further up the stack, there’s still a collection of proprietary solutions for OSS/BSS.
“There’s still lots of work to be done to open everything up,” he said.
Because of the nature of where the industry is, some operators combine proprietary solutions with open ones, and there are vendors out there that say they’re open source but actually offer modified versions of open source that aren’t fully community connected, so “it’s not really a fully open space,” he said.
One of the challenges is interoperability up the stack between all the different layers, so that there are interoperable open APIs. The continued use of proprietary or modified technologies all the way through the stack makes it complicated. The other thing is once you open it up to a large collection of vendors, it gets more difficult because now they all need to play together.
“The economics of virtualization itself haven’t gone as smoothly as we’d like them to. We’re not getting as much bang for our buck out of virtualized stuff on top of x86,” and applications from network vendors haven’t been fully moved into a cloud native mode, he said.
But it's not all about open source. Red Hat sends representatives to participate at the 3GPP and ETSI levels so that they know what’s going on in 5G and the standards communities, "so that we can build a common architecture that supports the evolution of those specs," he said.