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ONF’s Unique Curated Open Source Model Producing Impressive Results

Mar 17, 2020
Timon Sloane
Timon Sloane About the author

ONF had a landmark 2019 and the momentum is accelerating! ONF successfully delivered open platforms and solutions that leverage disaggregation, merchant silicon, white box hardware systems and open source software - and in doing so ONF is providing a highly disruptive value proposition to service providers and participating supply-chain companies. 

With multiple ONF platforms and solutions entering tier-1 production networks in 2019, ONF’s model is now proven and the tangible results are undeniable. Our operator partners are transforming their networks and are on a path to delivering new innovative services, and all this is being achieved while yielding notable capex and opex savings. Simply put, open networks are easier to deploy, manage and scale, and lower in TCO.

As we reflect on the successes, we recognize that ONF’s unique operator led curated open source model has been a key contributing factor. We want to take this opportunity to thank our members for their participation and contribution and share our model with the larger community (beyond ONF members): What is it, how does it work, and how does it bring value to its stakeholders? What results can you reference? And why does ONF need its own open source model? 

What is ONF’s Operator Led Curated Open Source Model? How does it work? 

Consider network operators such as AT&T, Comcast, China Unicom, DT, Google, NTT and Turk Telekom -- all ONF partners. Collectively, they own and operate some of the largest broadband and mobile infrastructures and offer an extensive array of services. They are all committed to transforming their networks because they realize they cannot continue to use their existing approaches to build and operate their networks -- costs are rising too quickly along with traffic growth and they cannot customize and adapt quickly due to their heavy dependency on their vendors. These operators have specific ideas and priorities on how to achieve their transformation and they come together as a community to share their concepts and requirements. As ONF Partners, they actively participate in identifying and defining solutions they want to jointly pursue and then commit to production deployments to push forward their respective transformations. 

These operator prioritized solutions become ONF Reference Designs (RDs) that operators, ONF and our ecosystem collectively pursue.  Each RD is both a set of specification and an open source implementation called the Exemplar Platform (EP). The EP becomes the core of the solution that the operators deploy. 

Supply chain partners are key members of the ONF ecosystem and are committed to its vision of creating open solutions based on SDN/NFV, disaggregation and open source. ONF partners have the unique opportunity to work closely with operators to develop platforms and solutions that they are committed to deploying. ONF has multiple collaborative teams where operators and supply chain leaders work together: Executive Team, Technical Leadership Team (TLT), Executive Supplier Advisory Board (E-SAB), Technical Supplier Advisory Board (T-SAB), and multiple Reference Design Teams, and of course open source projects. A key benefit for supply chain partners is they don’t have to guess their customer needs nor requirements. They gain early insights and access to operators, their requirements and open source solutions, significantly cutting R&D costs and time to market ensuring that they are building the solutions operators want. 

Finally, working with operators and supply chain partners, ONF participates in projects with our own small engineering team of 25-30 experienced and innovative software architects and developers. They play an important role in architecture, design, implementation, and productization of the RD/EP. And because the ONF team has no legacy to protect and no commercial interests, we are able to pursue innovative and disruptive architecture and solutions with a passion. Our board and others close to us describe the ONF team as “small and mighty”, and it is a very critical element of the curated open source model.

In short the unique aspects of ONF’s Operator Led Curated Open Source Model include:

  1. Operators’ engagement from beginning to end 
  2. Operators’ up-front commitment to deploy ONF Reference Designs 
  3. Aligned supply chain partners committed to the same vision 
  4. ONF’s small and mighty team of experienced architects and developers. 

Are there any results to show?   

In 2019, the first full scale production deployment of ONF platforms took place by tier-1 operator partner. We believe this is the start of a major transition for our industry, and might well, in hindsight, be recognized as the start of a third era in telecom when operators take back control of their networks (similar to what cloud operators are already doing), thus moving away from reliance on any single vendor and from proprietary solutions. Here is a summary of current deployments:

Production Deployments Leveraging ONF Open Source

Pending Deployments

Current Field Trials

Pending Field Trials

In each of these examples, incumbent vendors’ proprietary products did not play any role. Operators are working directly with the ONF ecosystem which includes white box vendors and system integrators to build and support their implementations. This represents a huge change in how operators design, implement, and procure solutions they need to enable their expanding and evolving businesses. And, we fully expect this change or transformation to accelerate in 2020 and beyond. 

Why does ONF need its unique open source model? 

ONF’s mission is to help operators transform their access and edge infrastructure and services leveraging merchant silicon, white boxes, and open source based on SDN/NFV/Cloud architecture principles. The intent is to give operators more control of their networks, bring more capex and opex efficiencies and agility, and enable the delivery of more innovative services on their networks. Our resulting solutions don’t rely on vendor proprietary products (however, vendors are encouraged to build on ONF’s open source platforms and solutions and offer value added services that are customized for each operator). 

Clearly ONF’s platforms and solutions and how operators procure and deploy them are at odds with the legacy incumbents’ proprietary products and business models. Therefore, we are not currently seeing incumbent vendors embrace ONF platforms and solutions or contribute their expertise and developer resources. On the other hand, the aligned up and coming supply-chain partners that want to challenge the status-quo don’t yet have the necessary expertise or developer resources to commit to development of ONF platforms and solutions. This has meant (1) operators have to step up to engage in the complete lifecycle of ONF solution development; (2) ONF has to step up to build an engineering team of its own to lead development of the open source platforms and solutions; and (3) operators and ONF have to recruit agile supply chain partners that want to challenge the status quo and are willing to build a business around merchant silicon, white boxes and open source based solutions. And that is exactly what operators together with ONF have done in creating an operator led curated open source model that is starting to produce transformational results. 


Our journey, like all considerable undertakings, has taken some time to show results. Although we are not done, it is remarkable to see the impressive results. There is now broad agreement that the transformation towards software defined networks based on open source platforms and white boxes is inevitable. The only question is a matter of time. How much longer will it take? ONF’s curated open source model provides a proven approach to accelerating the industry-wide transformation operators desire.

Operators’ historical reliance on incumbent vendors and fixed function network appliances is shifting at an unprecedented rate. With market disruption comes opportunity for innovative companies, both operators and supply chain, and new players to emerge as market leaders. For existing ONF members, we encourage you to take a fresh look at the remarkable portfolio of open source solutions that the ONF community has developed, and consider leveraging them to a greater extent. And for new companies, now is a great time to come join us so that you too can participate and benefit from the vast changes reshaping our ecosystem.

We expect the next couple of years to be exceptionally exciting as ONF operators come together with their ongoing resolve and commitment to transform access and edge infrastructures with ONF and its community - leveraging disaggregation, merchant silicon, and open source software to achieve true transformation of the networking industry. Join us and become part of this industry-wide metamorphosis.

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Timon SloaneVP, Marketing & Ecosystem
Timon Sloane is the vice president of marketing and ecosystem of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). He leads the organization’s efforts building an open source ecosystem, thus helping to enable broad transformation of the networking industry through the adoption open source business practices.