Huge Challenge of Disaggregated Network Equipment for Large Telecom Gear Makers

Disaggregation of IT equipment started with Facebook driving the Open Compute Project (OCP) to open up the design of compute servers.  It then extended to bare metal switches and white boxes (such as those from Pica8), especially for Software Defined Networks.  That represents a huge competitive threat to traditional switch/router vendors.

The latest disaggregation effort is to decompose the functional elements of two types of equipment: GPON Line Terminating Equipment (LTE) and G.FAST (vectored DSL) modems.  It’s known as the CORD project, which is an acronym for Central Office Re-architected as a Data center.  Last June, ONOS (a consortium developing an Open Source SDN operating system for service providers) combined with AT&T to demonstrate a CORD Proof of Concept (POC) at the Open Networking Summit which we described in this article.

“One of the ONOS applications that has really taken hold is CORD,” said Bill Snow, vice president of engineering at ON.Lab . “From day one we have targeted ONOS to serve the service provider marketplace… and we found that there was a big hole there.”

At the Light Reading White Boxes for Communications Service Providers event in November,  CORD for GPON was described by Ken Duell as “FTTH as a Service” consisting of hardware blueprints (schematics?) and open source software modules.”  Duell said a CORD-GPON field trial will be held in the 1st Quarter of 2016.

In addition to AT&T, ONOS CORD project contributors include Ciena Corp., Ericsson AB, ON.Lab, SK Telecom and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 

The New IP recently reported that SK Telecom is working to enhance CORD for the delivery of mobile network use cases.  The South Korean telco is leading a project called Simplified Overlay Networking Architecture (SONA), which will ease deployment of software defined data centers, where they have provided OpenStack Switching and OpenStack interfaces for CORD.

Guru Parulkar, executive director of ON.Lab, said the goal of ONOS CORD is to bring the economics of data centers and the agility of cloud to service providers.    Guru opined: “Service providers should be able to build their infrastructure with a few building blocks hopefully built using merchant silicon, white boxes and open source platforms.  Telco central offices have to be reinvented because they are where service providers have maximum CAPEX and OPEX spending, but they are also gateways  to enable or offer new services to residential and business customers.” 

Juniper Disaggregates Junos:

In November, Juniper Networks announced the disaggregation of Junos – it’s network operating system for advanced routing, switching, and security.  This move will allow Juniper’s users to run the software on third-party (bare metal/white box) switches supporting the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE). It also allows customers to install third-party applications such as automation and programming tools or services like deep packet inspection directly on Juniper switches via a VM or container.

Juniper is committed to separating software from hardware as the networking industry shifts to a software focus, Jonathan Davidson, Juniper executive VP and general manager of development and innovation, told attendees at the company’s inaugural NXTWORK customer summit in Santa Clara, CA.

Conclusions:

Severe price pressures from Chinese network/ telecom equipment vendors (e.g. Huawei and ZTE), carrier consolidation (resulting in fewer large equipment customers),  new competition from the Ericsson-Cisco partnership (TBD?), results in an intensely competitive telecom equipment market with razor thin profit margins.  Add “SD-WAN/disaggregation/open source software” to the mix and there is even more of a threat from bare metal switches, white boxes, and commodity transport platforms.  

Meanwhile, consortium efforts like CORD/ONOS will surely lead to further minimization of  the hardware aspects of large telecom equipment vendors.  Software becomes the key factor with most of it going open source (e.g. ONOS and ON.Lab, Open Daylight, Open NFV, ONF, etc). 

With that megatrend intact, what role will the big telecom vendors play? And how will they compete with one another?How many will be left standing in the next five years?

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