Have you ever experienced buyer’s remorse? Maybe you bought something significant on a whim like a new car or the latest cool gadget, without thinking it completely through, and a few days or weeks later you wonder why you now own something that doesn’t really deliver what you were expecting.
These same experiences can occur in the service provider and telecommunications industries. There’s a lot of hype around the latest technologies saving money, increasing revenues, and expanding wallet share with customers. Meanwhile, are service providers really getting the business benefits they expect from these technologies? As consumers, most of us don’t even think much about these challenges. Instead, we’re focused on finding improvements for our lives and economic well-being by searching for choice both in the goods and services that we consume, and in how we consume them.
While the industry is developing all of these innovative solutions, service providers are looking to open source to give them more vendor choices and enable them to be more agile. However, if we look at the overall hardware and software stack used to deliver our communications and content services, we find that many aspects are not as “open” as one would expect. And this is not a simple challenge that can be solved at once. From the physical hardware--including COTS platforms--through infrastructure software, virtual/containerized network elements, orchestration, automation, data management, and the operational/business systems layers, every element has varying degrees of proprietary implementations and “value-added” modifications or extensions.
So, what does this mean for the service providers, or for that matter any business that selects and deploys proprietary or “modified” technologies, be they software or hardware? In essence, often they are now on their own to support that technology, or they have placed a sizable portion of their business into the hands of a single vendor. These types of choices inevitably add sizable long-term costs to a service providers’ overall business, that can be categorized in many ways, such as:
- Time to revenue: You are spending more time and resources building and merging/integrating which delays bringing your services to market.
- Security: You are now responsible for implementing security patches, which can increase risk to your business.
- Development: More time is spent developing/patching software or hardware systems instead of building new applications and services.
- Maintenance: There’s added responsibility for maintenance updates and release lifecycle management.
- Operational: Increased levels of complexity can take longer to debug issues and make it necessary to retest each update for quality and reliability.
- Downtime: Limited integration testing for interoperability and performance can mean higher risks of potential failures and/or outages.
- Migration: The more patches and/or updates made away from the “mainstream” version, the larger the costs can be to transition back to a supportable version.
The real question at hand is “what business are you really in?” Service providers are striving to deliver innovative new services and applications to their consumer and business customers. However, they often find themselves spending more and more of their resources and time than is desired on development, maintenance, security remediation, testing, validation, and integration efforts.
With these thoughts in mind, there are three key risks worth careful consideration that affect your business when choosing to deploy proprietary technologies:
- Hard lock-in to the support and development pace of a particular vendor
- Creating chaos in your environment if a customized feature or solution does not interact the way you would expect
- Increased technical debt as it takes more effort to maintain and update the proprietary feature than it does to develop it
So back to that buyer’s remorse…. We often see our customers go through the same process: They tinker with customizing new open source projects and proprietary technologies for an initial proof of concept, then realize that it's far too much effort and not their primary business to customize and integrate everything into their own environments, business processes, and tools.
For the success of the next generation of the internet, we need to work together as partners and contribute our ideas freely with an open mindset to accelerate the pace of innovation across all aspects of the ecosystem.
About the authors
Ian is Chief Technologist, Global Service Provider Business at Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of open source technologies. Ian brings more than 30 years of engineering, business, and telecommunications industry leadership to Red Hat. Acting as a catalyst and trusted advisor, Ian brings together a wealth of industry and open source community insight to help our customers flourish in the digital economy.
Rob Wilmoth is a Chief Architect on the Red Hat Americas Service Provider team. He works closely with customers and partners assisting with challenges ranging from regulatory compliance and general IT, to changing their perspectives and approaches towards business problems in the network and content delivery spaces. He has excelled in solution architecture roles supporting a range of industry participants including AT&T, WarnerMedia, Charter Communications, Comcast, TIAA Bank and the utility industry.