Open source used to be a hands-off technology for service providers. It was thought that open source technology is less reliable, and less secure than proprietary software. A product being based on non-traditional development and testing approaches made business executives sick with thoughts of chaos and disaster. But with major tech companies such as Google (News - Alert) and Facebook increasingly using open source, and succeeding, that view started to change – even with the more established, traditional companies like the service providers.
Dialogic (News - Alert) recently commissioned STL Partners to find out more about how service providers view open source software in their networks, and how they use it. We went into this project with the theory that service providers, like other tech industries, are less resistant to open source than they used to be.
We found that they are in fact using it, or openly considering using it. However, they mostly use highly mature and commercially-supported open source software such as Red Hat (News - Alert) Linux. So, maturity and commercial support is key.
It also turns out that many service providers will also use their own employees as guinea pigs by using open source software in employee-facing apps since they are less business critical. They also use open source with customer-facing apps that are executed only periodically.
It seems that new service areas will see more open source software. This makes total sense. Since these are new services, they would go with the newest software out there such as KVM and OpenStack. And many newish software has at least some open source components in it. Dialogic products, in fact, have some open source components in some of our newer products as well. It’s just a quicker and more established way to get to a working product.
To get more into how service providers feel about open source, we looked at the advantages and disadvantages with the priorities of the service provider in mind. Like any product, there are pros and cons. It’s just a matter of priorities that determines whether a product is good for you. Here is an abridged version of our findings.
Overall, the key advantages stem from the ability of open source software to drive agility such as customization, time to market and experimentation.
Customization: With open source, service providers are able to customize their software to their needs, and the market needs. This customization also helps companies gain competitive advantages, and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Time-to-Market: With open source, you don’t have to wait for the new release cycle, or even engage with the vendor for custom development. New releases that used to take months can now be done in weeks or days because you can modify the source code immediately.
Experimentation: Open source is ideal for experimentation because it’s customizable, the source code changes take effect immediately and it’s at the best price (free). All of these factors would also help accelerate innovation, which is never bad for any tech company.
Customization Can Jeopardize Support: The ability to modify the source code leads to one of the key disadvantages as well, which is that you need to have dedicated people to support the code. It’s your responsibility, especially if you have modified it, which means you might end up spending more money than you initially planned.
Level of Support: Unlike proprietary software, most open source initiatives do not come with any structured support. They often even rely on contacting the developer directly. As you can probably imagine, third party is crucial to service providers. So if there is a choice between commercially-supported open source software, and a community-supported one, you can bet that they will choose the former.
Intellectual Property Concerns: Many people also expressed intellectual property concerns. It can be difficult and expensive to ensure full compliance with all of the different open source licensing terms, and that can lead to litigation, although litigation is not an issue unknown in the telecom world.
All in all, service providers are more comfortable with open source than they used to be, but they still use it with caution – especially in areas of network functions such as switching, signaling, and media servers. They were forced to become comfortable with open source because its main advantage – agility – is too good to pass up. Like the internet, the concept of open knowledge and open access is beneficial to society, but it has to be done at the right time, and service providers are not completely sure it’s the right time, yet.
Jim Machi is senior vice president of product management and marketing at Dialogic Inc. (www.dialogic.com).
Jim Machi is SVP of Product Management and Marketing at Dialogic Inc. (www.dialogic.com).
Edited by Alicia Young