Role inversion

At the OpenStack summit in Atlanta this week there was a very interesting phenomenon. Vendors that have been traditionally positioned in the I.T space seemed to be directing their energy around OpenStack on the carrier / telecom space; while vendors traditionally in this space where doing the best they could to get beyond it and into non-traditional I.T deployments.

As an example, canonical’s booth was primary advertising their “Carrier Class OpenStack” and RedHat seemed very interested in NFV; with several senior developers organizing a cross project NFV subteam to focus on how OpenStack can be a better fit for carrier data-centers.

The traditional telecom vendors on the other hand seemed to be rather less sanguine on the NFV market. At least when it comes to the timelines required to get to production deployments: 2018 seems to be a reasonable target.

I don’t currently have access to market research data; but i would be very curious to take a look at it and how it is being interpreted. Either the I.T. vendors are over-investing or the traditionally Service Provider focused vendors are under-investing in this space. Cisco, for instance, which is typically quite business savvy is nowhere to be seen in “Carrier Grade OpenStack” space; other vendors (e.g. Ericsson, Alcatel, etc) are investing. But by my rather un-scientific guestimate, a much smaller percentage of their energy and resources when compared to the traditional I.T players.

I do believe in OpenStack in the carrier space. I’m convinced that it will happen. But for the carriers it will be first and foremost a cultural transformation rather than an incremental technology; and these typically take a very very long time.

In the enterprise space itself infrastructure automation is a step function. Going from systems and networks administration to automated infrastructure is non-trivial. It is a very different mind set. It assumes that operational procedures are executed as software rather than people; it requires architects, designed and operators to be software engineers. That takes time.

This transformation is picking up steam in companies that offer Software-as-a-service (SaaS) or cloud based solutions; they are typically more nimble. But it is a hard sell in traditional enterprise. This could be the reason for I.T. vendors to focus on the carrier space.

I doubt that the premisse here is that carriers will adopt infrastructure automation faster than enterprise. That is not particularly well supported by past history and the carriers are mostly in positions of quasi-monopoly without fundamental threats to many of their core services.

The one transformation that is happening rather quicly is enterprise applications moving to SaaS. Over-simplifying a bit, if one does not write an application, there is no point in hosting it on site. It can be done better and more economically by the people that built it. But this transformation should favor OpenStack: workloads moving away from traditional virtualization to SaaS providers.

My naive perspective would be that the focus of OpenStack vendors would be on SaaS: clouds for companies with a significant software development effort. Most of the early adopters of OpenContrail are in this category (with the remaining ones being IaaS providers).

I should definitivly go dig out some market research on NFV; i’m puzzled as to why vendors traditionally in the I.T. space are all focusing on this space.

It could be an example of the “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome. Working from a traditionally Service Provider focused company i expect that commercial success in OpenStack would come in the short and medium turn in the I.T. space, not SP.


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