[erlang-questions] Question about erlang history at Ericsson

Ulf Wiger ulf@REDACTED
Tue Jan 13 14:47:07 CET 2009

2009/1/13 Ed Korsberg <ed.korsberg@REDACTED>:
> This is a fascinating history lesson and matches what I suspected to hear.
> The sad part of the story from what I read in the paper is that Ericsson
> pulled the plug on future product development using Erlang even after it was
> shown to be viable and valuable in several shipping products.  It was a
> calculated business decision to do so but not a courageous one.  It is a
> shame to see visionaries shut down by bean counters.

Strictly speaking, the document that Bjarne referred to was an ERA
(Ericsson Radio) document, and the policy not to use Erlang only referred
to that division. It was assumed that the policy became corporate policy
when its authors later moved up to corporate management, but this was,
at least formally, incorrect. No such policy document ever existed at the
corporate level, and the old ERA policy document disappeared when ERA
was transformed into something else in a large reorganization.

There are of course several approval levels in a large company, and
different technologies basically need to be rubber-stamped as viable
for business-critical applications. Erlang has received such approval
for the product areas where it's actually used in important products.

A fair description of Erlang's status within the company today is that
it's regarded as a well-respected niche technology. That's not to say
that there aren't detractors, but a more common situation is that people
agree that Erlang has obvious strengths, but feel that they can't use
it due to legacy considerations - a perfectly valid stance, especially
in areas where the existing products are market leaders. (:

Ulf W

> On Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 5:07 PM, Robert Virding <rvirding@REDACTED> wrote:
>> 2009/1/12 Ed Korsberg <ed.korsberg@REDACTED>
>>> I am new to this Erlang forum so please excuse any 'newbe' errors on my
>>> part.
>>> I recently learned of the power of Erlang while attending a conference
>>> and while I find the technology
>>> of the Erlang language interesting, I am really curious how Ericsson
>>> engineering and management had the
>>> courage to produce a real revenue generating product on a radical
>>> previously unproven design.
>>> Many companies have internal engineering resources to create innovative
>>> research projects but it is
>>> rare for these research projects to make the transition to shipping
>>> products complete with all the quality
>>> control and field support required.
>>> I would be curious to learn how Ericsson managed this transition from an
>>> internal R&D development to
>>> a real shipping product.
>> The references you got from Thomas and Tuncer are good and give some
>> insight into the development of Erlang and the problems the lab had when
>> doing it.
>> BUT, one basic thing you must realise and is that the development of
>> Erlang was pure skunk-works and we in the lab decided more or less on our on
>> accord to do it. We were very lucky to get in contact with a group who were
>> both willing and able to try new technology for their development. It has
>> never really been sanctioned by management and only really been officially
>> allowed to be used when other more prefered alternatives have failed. Even
>> then there were many requests to phase it out and use other technologies.
>> Another thing to realise is that Ericsson, like most other large
>> companies, is not a homogenous entity and while we only ever had very
>> limited management support there were groups inside Ericsson who had the
>> need of, and saw the benefits, of using Erlang in their products. And who
>> were willing to fight to use it. Basically we were continually fighting to
>> keep Erlang alive, spread it and try to support groups who were using it.
>> Rather depressing perhaps but, I think, quite common for new technology in
>> larger companies.
>> Of course the really big happening for the spread of Erlang out of
>> Ericsson was being able to release it as public source. There were many in
>> Ericsson who saw the benefits of not using restricted in-house developed
>> technologies, but unfortunately for us the official solution to this was to
>> use external products instead. It did, however, make it easier to get
>> permission to release it as open source.
>> Robert
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