Linux and Open Source in Telecommunications

A success story with a focus on Carrier Grade Linux.
Technology Trend

In the past (circa 1985), communications and data service networks built on proprietary platforms to meet specific requirements for availability, reliability, performance and service response time. However, communications service providers needed to drive down costs while maintaining carrier-class platforms with high availability, scalability, security, reliability, predictable performance and easy maintenance and upgrade.

Figure 2. The Technology Trend from Closed Proprietary to Open Standards-Based Platforms

The current technological trend in this space, illustrated in Figure 2, is moving away from expensive proprietary and legacy systems consisting of proprietary technologies and components without a clear separation of the “building blocks” into standards-based systems that consist of interchangeable software and hardware COTS “building blocks” that communicate with each other using standardized interfaces and that are offered by multiple providers.

Traditionally, communications and data service networks were built on proprietary platforms that had to meet very specific requirements in areas such as availability, reliability, performance and service response time. Those proprietary systems were composed of highly purposed hardware, operating system and middleware and often included proprietary technologies and interfaces. Such proprietary approaches to system architecture fostered vendor lock-in, served to limit design flexibility and freedom and produced platforms that are very expensive to maintain and expand.

Today, those same service providers and carriers are challenged to drive down costs while still maintaining carrier-class characteristics for platforms to provide service and mission-critical applications in an all-IP environment. Providers are in a position today where they must move away from specialized proprietary architectures and toward COTS approaches and building practices (Figure 2) for several reasons:

  1. Faster time to market.

  2. Reduced design and operation costs by using COTS hardware and software components.

  3. The growth of packet traffic is placing added pressure on communication networks. Communication platforms reside on all-IP networks and need to maintain carrier grade characteristics in terms of availability, reliability, security and service response time.

  4. The emergence of COTS hardware and software components is driving the need for seamless integration of all components as integrated solutions that must be validated for carrier grade availability and scalability.

The benefits of a standardized platform (Figure 3) based on COTS hardware and software are many:

  1. Avoiding lock-in: by separating the hardware, operating system, middleware, applications and integration, vendor lock-in can be avoided by making components replaceable and interoperable through standardized interfaces.

  2. The platform achieves economic as well as technical scaling.

  3. All components and ecosystem links, including the integrator, can be changed if they underperform, with minimal impact.

  4. A fully open-source route is possible for next-generation networks and products.

  5. End customers benefit from multiple products running side by side on the platform and from an improved cost base and speed from fewer adopted platforms.

  6. Moving to CGL from a proprietary OS can save telecom equipment manufacturers money because they don't have to develop, maintain or license an in-house proprietary OS. Instead, they can invest in the CGL ecosystem to make Linux good for their own use. In addition, the flexibility of an open-source operating system provides for more customization, increasing each manufacturer's competitive advantage.

Figure 3. A Typical Telecom Rack with Multiple Network Elements

To summarize, the telecommunication industry is transitioning to COTS architectures and practices, embracing Linux and open-source software and re-aligning at multiple levels. Before 1999/2000, the industry experienced incompatible platforms, protocols, high barriers to entry, circuit switches and so on. Today, the telecommunication industry is resurging with COTS, Linux and open-source software, with many new players and many opportunities for new businesses.

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