By now, most of us saw Huawei’s dual announcements in which it claimed industry firsts with respect to an SDN controller and SDN/NFV orchestration and management suite. Overall, here at Current Analysis, we were positive on the news. The move not only helps Huawei fill out its overarching SoftCOM network architecture vision, but also demonstrates that the vendor has a strong understanding of carrier requirements with respect to software-defined and/or virtualized network orchestration and control.
Including our own analysis, there’s plenty of punditry on the relevance and/or impact of what Huawei revealed. Here, I want to explore a nagging question in my mind when I read Huawei’s releases: Why the preoccupation on claiming ‘industry firsts’?
Huawei is, arguably, the 800lb. gorilla in telecom networking. It has the broadest product portfolio in the industry. Taken as a whole, it is on par with or ahead of its rivals in terms of revenue garnered by selling carrier-grade equipment and services. It spends as much as if not more than its peers on R&D. It has a massive customer base. Ergo, whenever Huawei makes a move, everyone in the telecom networking business pays close attention.
So, again, why the preoccupation with claiming ‘firsts’ when those claims are generally easy to dismiss and, in the case of SDN/NFV control and management features, could be cast as outright dubious?
One reason to tout its being ‘first’ is to highlight that competitors seem to be more focused on the enterprise. Thus, by saying it has the first ‘carrier-grade SDN controller,’ Huawei does have a claim, debatable as it might be. After all, the SDN controller that Nuage launched as part of its Virtualized Services Platform (VSP) solution in April had a decided enterprise tack. However, regardless of where Nuage is starting from, carrier SDN is in its strategic roadmap and VSP is a big part of that. Similarly, Juniper’s Contrail SDN controller comes from a data center heritage. Of course, a big reason why Juniper bought Contrail was to support its carrier SDN play. NEC’s recently released OpenFlow 1.3 controller is also aimed at large enterprises. Again, however, to see NEC’s ambitions to take software programmability and virtualization to carrier networks one needs only to look to the vendor’s vEPC announcement that was made on the same day as Huawei’s SDN controller and management platform launch.
Ironically, the thing that the three aforementioned competitor announcements all have in common is that they all cited commercial availability and/or evidence of ongoing operator engagements. Huawei’s claim of being ‘first’ on SDN was supported by neither. All this is to say that Huawei’s seeming preoccupation with being first obscures the larger value that it brings to the market. Huawei’s value is not in being first. (In fact, being first in the telecom equipment game rarely yields sustainable benefit.) Instead, Huawei’s value, among other things, is in the breadth of its solutions, the quality of its engineering and the company’s culture, which promotes customer partnerships as opposed to simple commercial relationships.
To this end, I submit that rather than focusing on easily dismissed claims which yield little actual value, Huawei should use its financial strength, technology development might and sizeable customer base to demonstrate leadership on commercializing and deploying carrier SDN and/or NFV technology. That, to paraphrase a fashionable American slogan, would be change that the market could believe in.