Sprint executive: Chaos in open source indicative of startup culture, and that’s just fine

While the container space is still evolving, management and organization is top of mind for Sprint.

Mobile operators are embracing open source like never before, and there’s a lot of confusion around the myriad projects and efforts that are underway, but that doesn’t worry Sprint’s vice president of technology, Ron Marquardt.

As a rough analogy, he says the normative standards bodies that have been around for a long time are sort of like Fortune 500 companies. They have a purpose, they’re big in scale and scope, and you know very clearly who to go to for mobile standards. It’s not a question of which of many organizations to go to.

Ron Marquardt
Ron Marquardt

In the open source community, “it’s more of a startup nature right now,” he told FierceWirelessTech. “There’s a lot of overlapping open source communities that are developing in parallel and there’s a degree of chaos associated with that, but that’s also where the energy and the creative innovation comes from at this point in time. I wouldn’t want to say we want to collapse that too quickly.”

Sprint recently unveiled C3PO, which stands for Clean CUPS Core for Packet Optimization. (CUPS stands for Control & User Plane Separation.) It was the result of several years of effort it undertook with Intel to create an open source NFV/SDN-based mobile core reference solution.

At the time Sprint started the project, it wanted to find a more efficient solution. In the end, the company identified seven network functions applicable to essentially all user traffic: serving gateway, packet gateway, deep packet inspection, child protection filtering, carrier-grade NAT, static firewall and service function chaining classification (ISC). Instead of connecting these as separate functions, they developed C3PO as a way to collapse the functionality together into one implementation for the network core.  

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Marquardt acknowledges the challenges in today’s open source communities. “It is a challenge and you hear gripes, at times people say it’s too much chaos and open source has caused problems but that’s like saying there’s too many startups,” he said. “Over time, the market will shake that out. It’s an important part of the process.”

There has been a lot of talk in the industry about the need to harmonize various projects, and The Linux Foundation hired Arpit Joshipura last year to help harmonize the open source networking ecosystem, which includes but is not limited to OpenDaylight, OPNFV, FD.io, Open vSwitch, OpenSwitch, IO Visor, ON.Lab, CORD and ONOS.

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“Our ask is harmonize groups,” Srinivasa Kalapala, vice president of global technology and supplier strategy at Verizon, told attendees at the Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, California, last month. “There are a lot of open source groups doing a lot of different things. I don’t think we’re recommending that there needs to be one open source group or project, but I think we need to have more dialog between the teams, especially if they’re all abstracting things quite a bit, then there has to be some level of integration-level conversation that needs to happen.”

Marquardt said calls for more unity are fair. But there’s a difference between the traditional standards world and what’s going on with open source. Standardizing something too quickly when it’s a fluid situation is not a good idea. A year or 18 months ago, the industry was entirely focused only on virtualized machines and OpenStack, and now there’s a resurgence about containers as well.

“If we had made too many plans too fixated only on one, we wouldn’t have been nimble as an industry to pick up the other,” he said. “We do eventually as an industry have to consolidate what we’re doing, but I’m confident we’ll get there in a consensus-driven process” but consensus driven in a different aspect than a standards body.

Normally, a standards body is very concerned about getting everybody’s opinion on the table and getting consensus. In open source, it’s all about contributions, and those who are most active and those who are really putting the skin into the game, so to speak, are the ones making the biggest impact. And it’s not just about writing the code; they actually have to use it, too.

While the container space is still evolving, management and organization (MANO) is top of mind. “In our minds right now, the long pole in all of this, whether it’s containers or virtual machines, there’s lots of newness to all of it, but the part we feel the most angst about is MANO,” he said. “We really need to see very clear, credible solutions—we don’t quite see them 100 percent there yet, to manage all this complexity. So whether it’s virtual machines or it’s containers or it’s both, we need to as an industry … We really think the long pole is going to be getting that management and the certainty that we will be able to manage that level of complexity.”

Containers were not initially part of OpenStack, and there’s movement afoot to combine and create hybrid models of all of these. “I think that’s all good, we just need to ensure that we’re open to those options. Where we’ll use a container versus a virtual machine, I don’t think we’re ready to say anything publicly about that, I think we’re still very much analyzing our options there.”

Unlike operators such as AT&T, Sprint is not saying how much of its network will be virtualized by a certain timeline. It plans to add virtualized functions into the network and it will notify the industry as it happens.

For now, Sprint is cognizant of how the open source projects will coexist with future standards work. “Having our hands dirty so to speak in the open source and having written the code ourselves gives us that much more ability to A) argue effectively based on actual experience what can be a good implementation or not and B) be able to influence the thoughts of others as we move forward,” he said. “We want to create an ecosystem around this, we don’t want this to be something unique to us.”