Open Innovation: CSPs in Transformation

For Communications Service Providers (CSPs), times are changing. Long the dominant provider of broadband services, CSPs find themselves facing a near perfect storm of challenges to virtually every aspect of their business and operations. These challenges begin with an increasingly restless subscriber base pressuring them to deliver new services—the kinds of popular new services, programming content, and applications that customers are already receiving through Internet-based providers, such as Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Hulu, and other over-the-top (OTT) content providers.

Faced with this competitive threat to their basic business model, CSPs are realizing the need to transform the way they operate their business. They understand they need to develop a more agile infrastructure, one that as Misbah Mahmoodi, VMware’s director of product marketing, says, “can turn on a dime” to support faster time-to-market and a more flexible operating model.

Transforming the CSP Network

A central problem for CSPs is that their network platforms are based on purpose-built, proprietary hardware equipment. To change or roll out new services is complex, costly, and time-consuming, often taking 18–24 months or more. And their software is often just as brittle and unchanging, further complicating the situation.

Faced with these challenges, CSPs seek a solution that is more agile, one that is based on open source software and rooted in virtualization, specifically, the architecture of network functions virtualization (NFV). “The NFV software model,” explains Mahmoodi, “is a new architecture in which the CSP replaces a network based on purpose-built hardware and moves it onto commercial off-the-shelf hardware (COTS).” CSPs then apply virtualization to “allow everything to run as software.”

“With NFV, CSPs will have the ability to swiftly turn up new services and turn down the existing ones they no longer need,” says Mahmoodi. “They can expand the infrastructure based on capacity requirements, scale out, scale down, and provide more of an elastic network for their customers.”

Accelerating Innovation With Open Source

Solving the hardware challenge is only part of the equation. Open source software has been integrally involved with NFV since NFV was first introduced five years ago. A collaborative innovation model for software development, open source is often seen as moving faster, changing more frequently, and, in general, as being capable of customization more readily than proprietary software. It provides CSPs the software independence to take full advantage of the agility and hardware independence offered by their new NFV infrastructure.

“To realize the full potential of their software-based networks,” says Mahmoodi, “CSPs want to go down the road without vendor lock-in, and have the freedom to pick and choose the software they want.” But services based on open source can also introduce new challenges into the environment that can slow time-to-market or compromise the quality of service, including management, security, latency, and orchestration challenges.

To address these issues, CSPs want a platform to deploy and manage their new and varied services: a platform that ensures they can deploy open source-based software solutions that are secure, carrier-grade, and production-ready.

Investing in Open Source Technology and Leadership

“VMware fully supports open source,” says Mahmoodi. “It’s a bedrock of our culture, and we make investments in open source across a wide range of technologies.” VMware’s involvement in open source and its expertise in regards to the technical requirements of carrier-grade environments, “ensures CSPs of the scalability, security, and manageability of their open source-based solutions,” states Mahmoodi.

VMware offers CSPs a foundational NFV infrastructure with the flexibility to support new services and OpenStack components. It is an infrastructure upon which CSPs can innovate—confident in the knowledge that the platform will allow them to quickly deploy secure, carrier-grade and production-ready open source-based solutions with single management of the NFV infrastructure.

VMware’s open source leadership and technical contributions also include Open vSwitch, an open source software-defined networking switch; Neutron, the networking component of OpenStack; and participation as a founding member of the Open Networking Automation Project (ONAP), which aims to join top global carriers and vendors with the goal of allowing end users to automate, design, orchestrate, and manage services and virtual functions.   

With initiatives like these and more, VMware is reinforcing its support of the collaborative innovation that open source represents. It is providing the framework for truly open innovation by supplying the service automation, networking, security, and full visibility into the CSP NFV-based network. “VMware now has more than 80 NFV deployments, in 45 CSPs, that serve more than 300 million subscribers worldwide,” concludes Mahmoodi. “And we’ve only just begun.”