The Growing Pains of Open Source
SEATTLE -- Open Daylight Summit – There's no question that open source communities have pried open the innovation floodgates, but it's not always smooth sailing enabling those new technologies and services.
OpenDaylight's advisory group panel tackled a few of the problem areas of the transition to open source on Wednesday at the OpenDaylight Summit. Toby Ford, assistant vice president of cloud infrastructure and platform architecture and strategy for AT&T, in particular drew the bead of panel moderator Phil Robb, senior technical director at OpenDaylight . Robb asked Ford if there were any challenges associated with working with open source communities.
Ford acknowledged that open source communities have done an excellent job of creating diverse and innovative solutions on the technical side, but too many iterative innovations were having the opposite effect.
"My thing lately is talking about the yin and yang of iterative innovation, or iterative s**t. On the other side, the balancing factor is about re-factored core or consolidation," Ford said. "They have to exist together. I think the biggest challenge of that is we can all be in our [own] universe, go off, and make our projects and have our thing, but if the end result is a big mishmash of iterative innovation then somebody has got to be responsible for and accountable for a level of re-factoring. Is it a good way to sniff out agile washing? 'Oh we've had 25 cycles of iterations.' OK, when did you plan for reducing technical debt?
"That's the other part of it, especially with SDN. You're seeing so many projects overlap with a limited number of customers and a limited number of resources. I think we have some work to do to clean that up across the board. That has been a lot of my thing here [at the Summit] this week; focusing on getting interfaces right and consolidating on interfaces so we can be allowed to have diverse innovation in the right spots."
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) a few things.
"One is to get more than one vendor to help us," he said. "A big part of our transformation is opening up our Domain 2.0 [initiative] and getting a community to help and then making it so it's not just a mano a mano relationship. It's actually an ecosystem, so that has been very helpful to us in many ways. Also just in getting more interoperability and getting focused on more standard approaches to things [has helped.] That's one part of it."
Ford said the second part of working with open source communities instead of just vendors was bringing developers into the picture.
"I think the operators have a lot of work to do to bring on the right kind of talented contributors," he said. "It's more than just hiring people that are network developers, that's hard in and of itself, but it's also getting people that can be participants in a collaborative organization. So I think we've done a good job to get to here but we still have a ways to go to be what I would like to see as the end state."
Robb also asked Ford about the cultural changes that needed to take place to enable open source projects.
"Writing a check to your vendor is one thing but getting developers, getting authorization to get developers to work in a community, what challenges or opportunities have you seen there?" Robb asked.
"There are a few parts of it," Ford replied. "There's the CYA (cover your ass) aspect of it. It's great having a vendor and then you can say 'Hey it's his problem.' It's different when you're the one writing the code and making it work. Then you are accountable for it. That takes a different mindset.
"It's also about the technology too. If you rely solely on the vendors to come up with the strategy that often leads you into a dead end. The opposite side of that is 'OK, now that it's our responsibility it's very open ended and how do we influence things to come to some focus? That's one part of this challenge; having the right kind of willingness to take risks and be accountable for what's changing."
The other part of the cultural changes equation is that service providers need to be thinking about automation and development cycles on a constant basis, according to Ford.
"We're transitioning to a state now where we want to manage a lot more than any one person can even comprehend," he said "So we have to be thinking about it in terms of automation and development models. CICE (continuous improvement culture everywhere) and that way of operating something is totally different than the highly managed, change management processes of the past."
While cultural transformations are a topic unto themselves, and only one part of the panel's talking points, adjusting the company mindset is a good starting point.
"The approach we're taking is we've tried to tell our traditional network engineers that this isn't a taking away from what you do," said Chris Luke, senior principal engineer at Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), and the chairperson of OpenDaylight's advisory group. "It's about removing the laborious, mundane crap and giving you more time to do more interesting and more valuable things with that time."
At the same time, Comcast is providing its employees some opportunities to "upskill" so they can learn about the new technologies and services. Luke cited a University of Pennsylvania designed course where professors taught Comcast employees about the critical thinking skills that were are necessary for computer scientists.
Alex Zhang, principal architect for China Mobile Technology US, said that traditional telcos really needed to take a look at open source projects in general while also looking at how they could collaborate with vendors and technology providers.
"If you look at the traditional telecom companies, they're not quite ready for the so-called software-centric transformation," Zhang said. "They really need to use this opportunity to transform themselves by thinking about new software processes."
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation
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