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By | Richard Chirgwin 25th November 2014 02:58

Huawei's and ZTE's SDN embrace: soft power in vendor-land

Could SDN alignments be a subtle 'trust us, we're open' move?

China's network hardware sector has taken another step into the world of openness with ZTE joining the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) project.

As ZTE and (even more enthusiastically) Huawei cosy up to the world of open networking, Vulture South is moved to wonder whether there isn't an exercise of “soft power” emerging.

ZTE is already a member of the OpenDaylight project and Open Networking Foundation, both of which also have Huawei as a member, and Huawei is in the world of OpenStack as well.

Their participation makes sense, since it aligns the Chinese giants with nearly all the startup names in the networking business, most of the challenger brands, and some of the giants. It's as broad an industry movement as has existed since nearly everybody clustered around Ethernet while IBM stuck doggedly with Token Ring.

And one aim of the movement – whether or not it succeeds – is to unseat Cisco from its domination of the networking market.

That's where the interaction between tech and politics looks interesting to Vulture South, since the governments of Australia, the USA and India have a hostile attitude to Huawei and ZTE.

That hostility is founded on suspicions that Chinese vendors are trojan horses. But once the likes of Huawei and ZTE are embraced by SDN collaborators they can make the argument that "all these global vendors trust us to contribute to their projects without compromising their security”.

Even better, in terms of tech-sector diplomacy, Huawei and now ZTE will be slinging code contributions into the projects – code that will be open to be picked over and scrutinised. “Look, no hidden nasties here!”

It's arguably more effective than (as Huawei has done) offering to let government labs test their kit. Every API that's opened to the various open networking communities provides more opportunities to understand the function of a system, and leaves fewer places for a hidden behaviour (if such a thing existed). ®

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