MWC16: Open Source Steps in to Unblock NFV MANO

David Snow - Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure
David Snow – Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:                 

  • Mobile World Congress saw not one, but two, new open source MANO initiatives launched
  • While a true open source is a massive step forward for telecom, MANO may end up in a state of “openkill”

With general consensus that, for the first time in three years, MWC16 was not dominated by operator or vendor NFV messaging, it’s not true to say that there wasn’t any significant NFV activity – far from it. What was particularly intriguing though, was that the significant NFV activity was around open source MANO.

Six months ago, open source MANO was considered an “interesting experiment” and confined to Telefonica’s research for the UNICA project.  However, since then, the concept has gathered significant industry support.  First, in December last year, OPNFV announced that it intended to “remove scope constraints” and consider addressing the parts of MANO above the VIM, and a few weeks ago at Mobile World Congress, two new open source MANO initiatives were launched, the Open Source MANO (OSM) Community, under the auspices of ETSI, and the Open-Orchestrator (Open-O) Project, under the Linux Foundation. You can follow the links to see which operators and vendors are involved in each; but that’s not the subject of this post.

There is now fairly wide acceptance that open source software development – rather than a long, drawn out standardization process – is an alternative route to achieving multi-vendor interoperability. MANO certainly needs a lot of help in this area. However, open source represents a major cultural change for telecoms as it is embraces far more than the traditional “open interfaces” with which operators and vendors alike have a great deal of familiarity. Many MANO vendors that Current Analysis spoke with at MWC continued to talk up their NFV interoperability credentials in terms of “open APIs”.  That’s all well and good, but it’s nowhere near good enough for this stage of MANO development. That’s because open APIs only work if both ends have a common view of the partitioned functionality of the whole system – and for MANO, despite the ETSI NFV ISG work of the past few years, that is still definitely a work in progress. The reason open source is such a massive step forward, though, is because it implicitly includes both “open interfaces” and “open functionality”. To their credit, other MANO vendors we spoke with were increasingly “open” (excuse the pun) to opening (i.e., publishing) their code to be freely available, understandable and re-usable by others. Some have already done it, some are definitely considering it.  That’s really good too, but still not quite good enough.  No, the key to true open source is that it actively encourages and includes multi-vendor and multi-operator contributions.  If, and only if, this happens, can open source software development truly become the basis for widespread interoperability.

So, at MWC16, open source came center stage heralding a great step forward for MANO. The only problem is that we now have at least three open source MANO initiatives gathering pace and, who knows, with TM Forum Live! 2016 coming in a few more months, there may even be four!  Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing. For unless these new initiatives get coordinated, MANO may now be heading for “openkill”, this time with too many open source groups, rather than vendors, vying for dominance.

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