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    Why there is no room for ego in the new-age networking ecosystem

    January 23, 2015 2:30 PM by Chris Janz, Ciena Corp.

    The term "ecosystem" seems pretty well ensconced in the IT industry, and in networking too of late. The idea of a system of vendors, developers, and operators interacting and collaborating to mutual benefit is one that seems like it ought to have come to fruition a long time ago. Given where we are heading now, it is hard to fathom why it took so long.

    But the ICT industry has to date consisted largely of "ego-systems": in effect, a series of siloes built around individual vendors, or limited consortia of vendors, working to create closed or proprietary solutions that were highly defensible. This was largely the legacy of history and the implementation of networking systems principally in hardware based on embedded, fixed protocols. This approach meant that vendors could work on evolutionary technologies or ideas behind closed doors, with "flavors" of implementation brought out that ultimately constrained operator options, innovation, and differentiation, and adversely affected their economics.

    But the industry as a whole has learned from the past, and the general shift of networking toward software – represented by the acronyms on everyone's lips: SDN (software-defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualization) – is fundamentally changing the game. The trend toward software-powered networking is driving a reshaping of the industry landscape that will break the dominance of ego-systems and replace them with something much better: a true ecosystem encompassing the industry as a whole.


    The networking industry "shift to software" is driving powerful changes in the industry landscape, promoting increasing collaboration through standards and coding efforts, and setting the foundations for adoption of open framework systems that break industry “ego-systems” and drive an expansive industry ecosystem.


    SDN and NFV reduce the scope of functional heterogeneity in hardware, pushing much more of how networks function into software. No longer so strictly tied to vendor "iron," the industry can approach software much differently. Part and parcel of the trend is a rationalization and convergence of evolving software systems. Together, these forces both compel and permit the formation of open software systems and architectures in which all industry players are free to participate – now, all pulling in the same direction.

    One impact of this that we are seeing is on networking standards organizations and how they function, and the emergence of networking-oriented open source software consortia.

    While SDN and NFV have driven the emergence of new industry organizations and efforts, like the Open Networking Foundation, the ETSI NFV ISG, and OPNFV, they have also affected the orientation and way of working of existing organizations like the Metro Ethernet Forum and TM Forum. Both "old" and new organizations are finding common ground, aligning efforts, and looking for complementarities of particular focus in ways we have not seen before, as they all adjust to the "shift to software."

    In parallel, we have seen the emergence of open source networking software consortia and efforts, like OpenDaylight and recently ONOS from ON.Lab. These efforts work differently than standards efforts; they progress by direct action – the generation of software code. But they are not working at cross-purposes to their counterparts. On the contrary: the industry standards and "quasi-standards" organizations are collectively providing the backdrop of agreement on principles of software function and architecture – e.g., information models, interfaces, etc. – that can guide, stabilize, and accelerate the open source development efforts.

    One point on which all of these organizations and efforts are increasingly clear and in agreement: Openness is key, and expansive openness leads to an expansive ecosystem. The shift of networking function more toward software implies significant changes from the bottom to the very top of system implementations within operators' infrastructures and back offices. Progressing such an expansive evolution effectively requires the participation of the industry as a whole – which means open collaboration. The convergence of software systems and facilitation of automation through IT systems require the same thing. Finally, broad innovation – and the ability by operators to leverage the whole of industry innovation and to innovate and differentiate their businesses – requires the development of and general adherence to common open system frameworks that are – logically – fundamentally based on open source efforts.

    All this is exactly what we see happening. And as the trend develops, we'll move from "forming and storming," through building the foundations, to reaping the rewards through technology adoption and deployment, and leveraging the power of an expansive – industry-scale – ecosystem of innovation. It will be a whole new ballgame.

    Chris Janz is Agility CTO at Ciena Corp. Ciena Agility is a new business division within Ciena that delivers turnkey solutions that enable service providers to offer virtualized network functions as an on-demand, consumption-based business service. Agility encompasses Ciena's SDN Multilayer WAN Controller and its applications, V-WAN, the Agility Matrix solution, including VNF Market and Director, as well as all future SDN and NFV development.

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Chris Janz

By Chris Janz
Ciena Corp.

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