It's one thing to create complex telecommunications infrastructure software for one of the largest telcos on the planet. It's another thing entirely to turn it into a universal platform and open source it.
Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), was formed by the merger of Alcatel, the French telecommunications infrastructure developer, and the parent company of Bell Labs, the legendary innovation factory responsible for the C programming language, fiber optic technology, CDMA cellular networking, and a host of other breakthroughs. Alcatel-Lucent supplies equipment and services to the world's largest network providers. The company employs over 70,000 people around the globe, and in 2012 was named by the MIT Technology Review as one of the 50 most innovative companies in the world.
As Senior Vice President of Application Enablement at Alcatel-Lucent, Laura Merling was charged with pushing the world's largest mobile telecommunications providers to make more of their infrastructure capabilities available to third-party developers. She realized the only way to do this would be to create a set of software capabilities that would provide these industry goliaths the kind of responsiveness usually reserved for startups. Time was not on her side, and this was no small undertaking.
"The first thing I did was pick up the phone and call Bob," recalls Merling. "For years I've relied on productOps to turn my ideas into reality, and this was the biggest idea yet." The productOps team met several times with Merling's team to flesh out the concept and craft an implementation strategy. Collaborating with Alcatel-Lucent employees from California, Illinois, Belgium, France, and Poland, productOps started hammering out deliverables.
"Initially there were a lot of skeptics inside ALU. But after a while they saw that we were building something real, and on a timeframe nobody would have thought possible." The first product, an API exposure engine created for use by a massive US mobile network provider, was rolled out in 2010 after months of effort by the combined ALU/productOps team. Merling's vision was starting to turn into reality.
"For years I've relied on productOps to turn my ideas into reality, and this was the biggest idea yet."
The next step was to take a product that had been built for one carrier and turn it into something usable by any network provider. The productOps team worked tirelessly to make the expanded version, Open API Platform (OAP), ready for launch in time for a 2011 announcement. "OAP really was revolutionary. It gave network providers the ability to use new business models. For the first time they could get beyond merely charging for bandwidth."
Merling's biggest challenge at this point wasn't building the technology; her team and productOps had already done that. The real roadblock to adoption was the lengthy telco sales cycle. Merling realized she could raise awareness and radically accelerate that sales cycle by open sourcing the majority of OAP, keeping only the most sophisticated components proprietary. Again she turned to productOps.
"Together we accomplished an awful lot in an industry that can be slow to change."
Working closely with the ALU team, productOps shepherded the creation of an Apache-licensed open source project called apiGrove. It incorporates OAP technology and gives any organization the ability to manage APIs for speed, security, and scale. It also gives potential OAP customers the ability to test the system without having to go through an extended business development cycle.
Reflecting on the experience of moving from concept to a targeted product to a broader product to an open source project, Merling says, "Together we accomplished an awful lot in an industry that can be slow to change. Along the way we made believers out of more than a few who said it couldn't be done."