Late last week, Alcatel-Lucent formally announced its CloudBand Ecosystem Program. This is not the vendor’s first foray into SDN/NFV or ecosystem building. Still, it does mark the first time it has boiled them together in the same soup. Ecosystem programs are super-common in the early days of a new market, so this probably won’t be the last. One question, then, that we didn’t try to tackle in our analyses is a pretty simple one. Is Alcatel-Lucent the right vendor to drive this sort of effort?
While my colleague, Peter, outlines the reasons why Alcatel-Lucent might not be the best suited to orchestrate this type of effort, I drew the long straw this time around and get to play the ‘good cop.’ In a nutshell, Alcatel-Lucent is a good candidate to help build an ecosystem around virtualization because of the many reasons that seem to have hamstrung the company over the past few years.
Consider this: Alcatel-Lucent’s portfolio remains broad, even as the company has indicated that it will focus the efforts as a part of ‘The Shift Plan.’ This means that it not only brings the requisite capabilities from across the telecom network to make virtualization work, but also is bringing its strongest company attributes to bear.
- It is quite good at IP and has strong transport layer products – both of which are fundamental to building out software-defined, virtual networks.
- It knows EPC and IMS, two places where virtualization is expected to materialize early on.
- It has a large, seasoned professional services organization which will be key to managing the complexity associated with transforming today’s networks to the virtual realm.
- It has Bell Labs, which remains one of the preeminent collections of telecom-focused scientists in the world… and let’s be clear there is plenty of R&D left to be done before carrier NFV is ‘baked.’
- And, it has a company that means “cloud” in French to help with the SDN piece when things really get cooking beyond selectively virtualizing routing functions.
Need more? Okay, consider that Alcatel-Lucent is coming to this party from a distinct telecom heritage. So, while SDN and/or NFV can rightly be characterized as bringing IT capabilities (and sensibilities) to the telco realm, I’d argue that it is probably easier for a telecom firm to get the IT piece right than vice versa.
Finally, and maybe most important, consider that it has actually signed up an ecosystem to participate in its… ecosystem. It has 15 companies on board, including operators (T-Mobile). It has big vendors (Intel and HP). It has smaller, yet important, stakeholders (Citrix, Metaswitch, inktank). It even has the Linux penguin involved (KVM)… and if there’s anything that says ecosystem, it’s the penguin, right?
This last point should not be understated. While Alcatel-Lucent’s direct competitors will characterize this as a naked ploy to hype its own orchestration platform (and, in fairness, they’d be right), the fact remains that Alcatel-Lucent has put together a strong team of players that, together, should be able to offer operators the guidance and proof points needed to get the ball rolling on meaningful carrier network virtualization deployments.