June 24, 2004

Carrier Grade Linux moving to carriers and beyond

Author: Jay Lyman

Carrier
Grade Linux
(CGL) -- an open source software framework being developed by the Open Source Development Labs to support high-availability, fast-to-market solutions for major telecommunications and other companies -- is taking considerable time to penetrate the slow-moving carrier market, but it is also gaining ground in vertical segments such as financial services, according to analysts attending this week's SuperComm telecom conference in Chicago.

David Willis, a Meta Group senior analyst, said it's too early to call CGL a huge success, mainly because of the sluggish pace at which telecom carriers move. "It takes a long time for the carrier to turn the ship," Willis said.

However, he added that carriers are in a major state of transition,
consolidating operating systems and billing, so the time is right to transition to CGL as well. "I think people see [CGL] as a natural next step; it's just a matter of
time. I'd say we'll see the market heat up by 2005."

Another analyst was more upbeat. Stacey Quandt, principal analyst of Quandt Analytics, said CGL is "a huge success." Quandt will moderate a panel discussion at the show Thursday among officials of IBM, HP, Intel, Lucent Bell Labs, Monta Vista, and Nokia, which are among a total of 22 major companies participating in and supporting CGL development.

"There are systems shipping which leverage the OSDL CGL workgroup
specification," Quandt said, referring to IBM's Carrier Grade Open
Framework, NEC's 3G wireless platform, and other products from manufacturers
such as Lucent, Alcatel, Cisco, Ericsson, and Nokia. She added that the
International Telecommunications Union recently announced the Carrier Grade Open Environment, which uses the CGL spec.

Quandt said the perpetual need for faster, better, cheaper solutions --
particularly with newer technologies such as 3G wireless and VoIP -- was driving the use of CGL and "making proprietary platforms
obsolete. CGL can shorten time to market and facilitate the integration of third-party software," Quandt said.

Nevertheless, there are two key issues to be addressed before CGL can meet its potential for carriers, Quandt said. First, the CGL specification is just that -- a specification -- and it is not yet a full-fledged standard. There are, for instance, no standardized APIs.

Second, CGL is open source software. That may lead telecommunications equipment manufacturers, carriers, systems vendors, and developers to believe they can create extensions and pick and choose the CGL capabilities they want to support, but Quandt said "companies that go down this path will find themselves with less community support and a smaller ecosystem of compatible hardware and software." The analyst, referring to the need to participate on a broader scale, said companies that are not involved in the development and refinement of CGL are missing an opportunity to gain community input and deploy with the greatest number of compatible components.

Quandt said telecom equipment makers are asking for more high availability features to be supported by the CGL spec. "The ability to leverage a specification to create fault-tolerant and highly available systems allows engineers to spend more time on value-added and differentiated features," she said.

Not just for carriers

While the CGL working group is focused primarily on creating Linux
momentum among carriers, its work is pushing the heavy-duty open source
framework into enterprise environments as well, analysts agreed.

"Reduced latency and five nines availability for mission-critical
workloads and customer-facing applications is pertinent to financial
services and other vertical market segments," Quandt said. "CGL is a
technology that is blurring the lines between enterprise infrastructure and
networking systems."

Meta Group's Willis concurred that CGL is having an impact beyond telecom as
aging RISC systems are replaced. "It is a natural transition as even Sun now is talking about open source and pushing it," Willis said. Not every operating system vendor has had success at the very high end, however. The analyst noted an effort from Microsoft to produce a carrier-grade version of Windows "went basically nowhere."

While carriers are not looking to abandon Unix completely, the
backing of HP, IBM, and others for CGL and open source will surely boost the
Linux presence in the space, according to Willis.

"We're going to end up seeing a lot more Linux in these carrier
deployments," he said.

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