In his influential 2006 book, Wikinomics, Don Tapscott discussed about the advent of free Open Source software, such as Linux O/S and Apache web services. Since then, many of us have been waiting to see if open source networking software coupled with low cost generic hardware will come to the telecommunications industry.
Decoupling of hardware and Open Source software may not be to the benefit of the large incumbent hardware vendors, such as Cisco. But many telcos also seem to have misgivings about Open Source. They bring up questions like stability and scalability. Perhaps, like the hardware vendors, they are frightened that Open Source will just lead to an erosion of their competitive advantage.
In spite of everyone’s reticence, we are seeing some in-roads with Open Source in the telecom market. WebRTC is an open source project that enables developers to embed peer-to-peer real-time communications capabilities into supported web browers.
Juniper has launched Contrail, an SDN controller. The Contrail controller creates a virtual network overlay on top of switching and routing equipment using industry standard routing protocols, such as BGP, MPLS, and IP VPNs, lessening the need to learn and use new, unproven protocols that might require hardware upgrades, and eliminating vendor lock-in.
On the carrier side, Telefónica seems to be taking a leading role, embarking on a number of projects involving Open Source. On one they are collaborating with Red Hat, and Cyan on orchestration software designed to maximize performance on networks that use NFV, or Network Functions Virtualization.
All things considered, the telecom industry seems to be moving slowly, very slowly, towards more towards Open Source software. But the days of Open Source software operating over generic hardware seems like a fantasy.