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A wave of open source initiatives in the telecoms sector has set high expectations, especially those focused on network functions virtualization (NFV) management and network orchestration (MANO) and associated service assurance and operations functions. However, despite this activity, there is still a lack of clarity over the role that the average communications service provider (CSP) should play in the development of open source in order to gain maximum advantage.

There may be growing momentum around the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) project, but multiple open source and standardization initiatives in the MANO and OSS space still make it an exceedingly complex environment to participate in. The two most influential initiatives remain the ONAP project and the ETSI Open Source MANO (OSM) initiative. However, numerous other open source groups and parallel initiatives are vying for attention, such as the agreement between Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) and ONAP, TM Forum's open APIs standardization activities and its recently launched Open Digital Architecture (ODA) program, and the Linux Foundation Networking Fund (LFN), recently established as a platform for cross-project open source collaboration.

The increasing focus on coordinating and aligning open source initiatives over the last 12 months is a sign of growing maturity, but it still doesn't make for a streamlined environment. Duplication of effort, alternative solutions to the same issues, a lack of standardized approaches, and conflicting agendas and interests can all slow things down. Last, but not least, there is an impact on the CSP contribution, because most CSPs do not have the resources to participate in multiple projects.

This is one of the reasons why vendors are still helping to power open source initiatives. Much has been rightly made of the important role played by AT&T in setting up ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management, and Policy) and driving ONAP forward, as well as the increasing participation of operators such as China Mobile, Orange, Verizon, and Vodafone, but once AT&T's impressive contribution is removed from the picture, it is the major vendors that appear to be contributing a large proportion of the coding effort. Another example of this imbalance can be found in the platinum founding members of LFN, of which CSPs only constitute around a quarter.

This imbalance is not necessarily a problem if the required interoperability and flexibility are still delivered. However, open source has always been presented as an opportunity for CSPs to regain control of the technology, and for this to happen, they need to influence and shape the agenda of open source projects to ensure they align with CSPs' needs. This will take a considerable investment of time and money in coding effort, standardization activity, and the development of new skills, as well as in making the necessary organizational changes to support software development and operations practices. As things stand, it is difficult to envisage any providers other than the leading CSPs having the resources to seriously support collaboration on multiple fronts and the associated R&D effort.

The impact of open source MANO may not prove as disruptive as some like to suggest, without additional industry effort to align the multiple open source and standardization initiatives more closely, making it easier for a wider range of CSPs to play an active role.

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