John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer (left), talks with Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin at the AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas, Jan. 5, 2017. (John Cook/GeekWire photo)
LAS VEGAS — “AT&T is an open-source software company now — I just have to pinch myself.”
That’s how Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin started off a talk Wednesday with John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer, at the AT&T Developer Summit during CES.
It surely must have been a strange experience for Zemlin, whose foundation oversees the care and enhancement of hundreds of open-source software projects, to be onstage with AT&T. That company since its inception — in 1879, when it was founded as The Bell Telephone Company by telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell — has been mostly about equipment. Phones, lines, switches, routers, and all manner of hardware have traditionally characterized the phone system. But that’s changing with the advent of cellular telephony, the internet and VOIP.
Since 2013, with the release of a paper outlining its Domain 2.0 plan, AT&T has been in the process of moving away from hardware-based networking and toward software-defined networking that can be provided as a service, much like any other computing service available on the public cloud. The basic idea is to cut the cost and time of providing services, including cellular connections and linking sensors for the Internet of Things.
In June, AT&T entrusted a major piece of its internally developed infrastructure, known as ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy), to the Linux Foundation. ECOMP allows the creation and management of software-defined networks. The goal of turning all 8.5 million lines of ECOMP over to the Linux Foundation, said Donovan at the time, is to make ECOMP the telecom industry’s standard automation platform for managing virtual network functions and other software-centric network capabilities. It’s currently being tested by Bell Canada and by Orange.
“Thank you for believing in us,” Donovan said to Zemlin, describing himself as “thrilled” with the handoff. But, like any father, he wanted to know what plans the adopter has for his child.
“We’re working hard right now to build out the organization to get the ECOMP code out into the open,” Zemlin responded.
We already have commitments from organizations that are going to come in and work at the infrastructure layer, to improve what’s already there. There are going to be opportunities for developers to finally now reach down into the networking layer . . . to find APIs so they can take advantage of network-security features and other manageability features. . . . Anyone can go into the project and participate directly with the the developers.
Networked data traffic will only grow over time, Zemlin noted, and putting ECOMP into open-source mode will help the network adapt.
“There’s a huge amount of data that’s going to be streamed everywhere, put tremendous pressure on the networks,” Zemlin said, “and developers are going to have a direct hand in not only enabling great consumer offerings at a low price but also making the world better by participating in the code that’s going to run most of society.”
Referring to the open-source movement in general, Zemlin said that open-source code now runs “every major stock exchange in the world and creates distributed-ledger technology that can track blood diamonds.”
The Linux Foundation looks for three things from any donor, he said: the project must solve a big problem, and the donor must offer all the code freely and openly and must be committed to its improvement. “This project we think is one of the best, and we’re happy to be working with you on it,” he told Donovan.