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DTW24-Ignite: ODA creates a market for plug-and-play OSS/BSS components

TM Forum members have been developing ODA to change the way the telecoms industry collaborates, effectively establishing a market for OSS/BSS components.

Dawn BushausDawn Bushaus
18 Jun 2024
DTW24-Ignite: ODA creates a market for plug-and-play OSS/BSS components

DTW24-Ignite: ODA creates a market for plug-and-play OSS/BSS components

New features of TM Forum’s Open Digital Architecture (ODA) announced at DTW24-Ignite will make it much faster for communications service providers (CSPs) to work with software companies and hyperscalers to automatically test and deploy software components. It’s a giant leap forward for ODA that could alter the market for operational and business support systems (OSS/BSS) and network functions.

TM Forum members have been developing ODA to change the way the telecoms industry collaborates, effectively establishing a market for Lego-like OSS/BSS components that CSPs can plug into their own operations environments and manage autonomously.

One of the new features unveiled by members at DTW24-Ignite is conformance testing to validate ODA components, which are the software building blocks of a cloud-native digital service provider’s IT and network systems. The other is improvement of the reference Canvas – an execution environment where components can be deployed – for wide-scale use. Both will be available from January 2025.

Changing how the industry buys software

“We’re developing a market for ODA components, so that everyone can buy and sell compatible software,” explains Andy Tiller, TM Forum’s EVP, Products and Services. “But we’re not – at least not yet – developing a marketplace like an online shop where you can buy a component. It’s still too complex for that.”

The first step is the ODA Component Directory, which helps CSPs find the components they need and the suppliers that are developing compliant products. To date about 30 components have been specified. Another handful are at the prototype stage, and dozens more are planned. More than 70 software providers have mapped their commercial products to the ODA components and listed them in the directory.

CSPs viewing the directory can see all the vendors for every component, including where they are on the journey to compliance based on self-testing. Today, the directory shows API conformance, but in January operators will be able to see companies that have completed conformance testing of whole components. Ericsson, Oracle and others, for example, have already tested some of their OSS/BSS components with a prototype version of the CTK (conformance test kit).

A new way to collaborate

A primary goal of the ODA is to "kill the RFP" and replace it with a model that focuses on experimentation through proofs of concept (PoCs), according to Dr. Lester Thomas, Head of New Technologies and Innovation at Vodafone Group, and an ODA pioneer. The result will be much faster service innovation, he says, adding that Vodafone is targeting a ten-fold improvement in operational efficiency and time-to-market for new services as it implements its ODA-based Telco-as-a-Service (TaaS) cloud-native platform.

“In the previous way of working within TM Forum, which was the art of the possible at the time, people would collaborate and create documents to show how something could or should happen, and then it would be a long time between that and it actually happening… For a new idea to become live in the hands of our customers, it has taken years,” explains Thomas, who leads development of the ODA Canvas in the TM Forum Innovation Hub. “Now, we collaborate on a daily basis, and it’s code collaboration. If someone says, ‘This is something I’m making available’, it’s available within a few days.”

The graphic below, provided by Thomas, shows the differences between the collaboration of the past versus today’s open source-style approach.

Dawn ODA Vodafonr

The new approach enables rapid development and evolution of interoperability standards for cloud-native software applications to support ordering, fulfilling, provisioning, managing and assuring telco services. Conformance testing ensures that suppliers’ ODA-based components are, in fact, interoperable in a live environment, in this case the ODA Canvas (either the reference Canvas developed in the Innovation Hub or another conformant Canvas like those offered by cloud providers based on the reference design – see below).

Deutsche Telekom’s Sigrid Braun, an IT Enterprise Architect who is active in TM Forum’s Innovation Hub, sees significant value in aligning with other CSPs and collaborating with hyperscalers and technology providers on ODA. “TM Forum has the influence to push the new standard forward. We couldn't do that alone as Deutsche Telekom,” she says. “This is the core belief why we are actively contributing here: that we come up with a standard for the industry and not a standard for a single telco.”

What’s the ODA Canvas?

To understand the ODA Canvas, it helps to think of components as Lego building blocks. The size of the studs and the dimensions of the blocks are standard so that they can be plugged together to construct objects. But to build a city out of Lego blocks, you need a stud board to support the components. So, TM Forum members needed to agree on the functional standards that make components interoperable, but they also had to specify how they should plug into a cloud-native runtime environment.

Development of the reference Canvas is happening in the Innovation Hub – a physical lab in India – using Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) practices to automate releases in a DevOps continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline. The reference Canvas is being built on Kubernetes, but the specification is platform independent and interoperable through the Kubernetes API.

The idea is for the Canvas to be able to evolve constantly, says Thomas. “We are working on what might an implementation beyond Kubernetes look like?” he says, pointing to a TM Forum Catalyst project (championed by Vodafone, e&, NBN and Orange) that has been looking at how to incorporate support for WebAssembly into the ODA Canvas. A W3C standard, WebAssembly effectively serves as an alternative to containerization that offers better performance, which is important for network functions.

“If you look at what’s happening in the network space, there’s lots of work that’s complementary to what we are doing with the ODA,” says Thomas. “A lot of the Kubernetes extensions that the [Linux Foundation Networking] projects are working on are about how to have that finer-grained control for performance and efficiency. So, to my mind we need to build some collaboration between what we’re doing in the TM Forum and what’s happening in those projects to make this more widely applicable.”

Read this ebook to learn more about the ODA components and Canvas

CSPs and cloud providers are already developing their own canvases based on the reference ODA Canvas. Vodafone’s is its TaaS platform, while Deutsche Telekom is developing a canvas called Magenta Canvas. Similarly, Orange is using ODA to create its Telco Cloud Factory.

Among hyperscalers, Google Cloud and Microsoft are contributing to the development of the reference Canvas, but each has also built its own compliant canvas. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a compliant canvas as well, but the company is not yet part of the Innovation Hub.

“This is the heart of the ODA idea,” says Deutsche Telekom’s Braun. “The Canvas should be multi-cloud enabled. As telcos, we want to use the canvas in different cloud environments to take advantage of the features that the hyperscalers bring with them.”

“It provides a standard way to deploy and operate TM Forum-compliant components securely on different cloud infrastructure integrated with DT applications,” says Braun.

Jio aims for 100% compliance

India’s Jio wears two hats in that it is both a large mobile operator serving 500 million subscribers and a cloud-native platform company that sells OSS/BSS components. The company has its own ODA-compliant canvas, and it also hosts the Innovation Hub.

Jio has “a clear roadmap and technical pathway towards complying to the Canvas and components 100%,” says Dr. Sudhir Mittal, EVP & Chief Architect, Jio Platforms, adding that the company is targeting full compliance within a year.

“This cultural shift in terms of thinking in a componentized manner is very important, because that is going to really bring the agility, fungibility and scalability we need,” says Mittal, pointing out that Jio has collaborated within TM Forum on standards since its inception as a mobile operator nearly a decade ago.

To accelerate the shift, Jio has invested with TM Forum in the Innovation Hub, which is located in the Reliance Corporate Park in Mumbai. “We have a lot of operators and vendors collaborating day in day out,” says Mittal. “This has brought huge pace to the standardization activity, and we have involvement from key minds across the globe, from various backgrounds. This is really an architecture in motion.”

Read this two-part series on Inform to learn more about Vodafone’s involvement in developing the ODA: