Network Operators Scold Suppliers at SDN World Congress

   David is a Principal Analyst on the Current Analysis Service Provider Infrastructure team.

David is a Principal Analyst on the Current Analysis Service Provider Infrastructure team.

Summary Bullets:

• The most talked about sessions at the October SDN World Congress in The Hague saw Verizon, BT, and Orange scolding suppliers about perceived weaknesses in their SDN and NFV product offerings.

• There is no doubt the transformation to a more software-centric network model is changing the relationship between network operators and their suppliers.

If network operators wanted to create a buzz at SDN World Forum they succeeded. In bluntly discussing what they see as weaknesses in vendors SDN and NFV product offerings, network operators such as Verizon, BT, and Orange inserted themselves into many of the casual conversations taking place during session breaks and in the exhibit hall at the event held in The Hague in October.
In one of the most talked about sessions, Verizon’s Shawn Hakl (VP, Product & New Business Innovation) told the audience the operator was not interested in being presented with vertically integrated vendor solutions. He then went on to say that suppliers need to make investments in interoperability and come to the table with SDN and NFV products that have been tested to function in a multivendor environment. He singled out VNF suppliers when he said “don’t make me write adapters to onboard VNFs, that’s your job.” Shawn chastised vendors that think 8×5 support with next business day delivery will work with dynamic software-centric networks, and said 7 x 24 hour support is the only approach that will work. If vendors in the audience were not already feeling raked over the coals, Shawn further admonished vendors that they were responsible for addressing problems with software licensing. He stated that Verizon wants a software licensing model for SDN and NFV that is greatly simplified, and matches the pay for use model that Verizon offers its customers with these infrastructure technologies. In an on-demand services environment he claimed that this would result in suppliers sharing in Verizon’s success. Finally Shawn told vendors their software products need to operate in the real world – a brownfield environment. A representative from BT echoed Verizon’s comments on software licensing and agreed this is something vendors need to figure out. Orange too said it is looking for a scalable licensing model from vendors that mirrors the pay per use model it plans to offer customers.

So will suppliers heed the operator’s call for a new approach? In talking with vendors I think most of them recognize their relationship with their network operator customers is changing. They understand the general direction the market is taking and want to participate in the transformation to software-centric networks. What they are having difficulty with is the specifics, and this is clouding their view of how they should approach product development. Should their VNFs work with AT&T’s ECOMP, Ciena’s Blue Planet, or perhaps the open-source MANO platforms OPEN-O, or Open Source MANO (OSM)? Which sets of open APIs should they interface with? What switch hardware platforms should they use for testing; OCP compliant, branded white box, or vendor specific, and what operating system should they test with? The major network operators leading the charge with SDN and NFV have decided they cannot wait for standards to move ahead and so each of them are developing their own deployment framework (typically with help from a very select group of vendors and open source software). Network operators have also decided they cannot wait for vendors. In the past, network operators were technology consumers. They relied on suppliers to develop and integrate technology. Product upgrades and feature roadmaps applied only to a particular vendor’s products, and were made available according to each vendor’s timetable. Now, as network operators move to a software-based infrastructure, they have become technology integrators, relying on a more open software environment, and interoperable commodity hardware platforms. Until there is a blueprint that describes the specifics of an SDN and NFV architecture, technology implementations, standards, and interface protocols, vendors will each have to make their own determination about the product features, integration and onboarding support, software licensing, and services they will offer (by the way, Current Analysis can help with this). If they are going to supply SDN and NFV products to network operators, vendors are going to have to be ready to turn on a dime, just like their customers.

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