AT&T is not early to the on-demand services party -- a number of its competitors launched services as long as two years ago ahead of what AT&T will first have in Austin later this year. (See AT&T Brings User-Defined Network to Austin Businesses.)
But the way AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is delivering its Network on Demand offering, part of the AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud (UDNC), is signifcant. It will be offering Ethernet services on demand using its internal deployment of software-defined networking (SDN), the beginnings of its network functions virtualization effort and the open applications programming interfaces (APIs) that AT&T is developing company-wide.
In addition, AT&T is leveraging a software orchestration layer it has designed that "works over our existing network elements that are in place today," says Josh Goodell, VP of Network on Demand at AT&T. "Making that work and having that work seamlessly in an environment where the network is serving thousands of customers is an interesting challenge. And part of that challenge also is ensuring that we've got the right linkage to the existing OSS-BSS systems."
While some network operators might take a more "cap and grow" approach, which caps investment in the legacy systems and embraces newer, more nimble open-source technologies for future services, Goodell says AT&T has to have a solution which capitalizes on its base of existing assets.
"Part of our strategy right now is integration into those existing systems and a lot of our development is tying back into those systems" he says. "It's an interesting challenge and it's something that we've worked through over the last several months. The approach we are taking is the right approach for AT&T. You have to look at the reality of what we have got from embedded base perspective and our network assets."
The over-arching goal of the entire process is to move from a hardware-centric model to a software-centric model, which in turn leads to the ability to simplify the network and make it more scalable. Adding in open APIs lets AT&T bring innovation into its network much faster as well.
"There is a ton of complexity in what we are doing but when you boil it down what is unique and different is the combination of those core technologies -- SDN, NFV and the opening of the network via APIs," Goodell says.
AT&T's SDN efforts are based on internal development that dates back to 2006, and includes its own internally developed controller, among other things. That has allowed AT&T to shift control of the network into software and that, in turn, has led to automation of functions that allows AT&T to give customers more control. (See AT&T Working on Home-Grown SDN Controller for Later in 2014 , AT&T Reveals Audacious SDN Plans and AT&T Spotlights Early SDN Efforts.)
The NFV part of the picture, while still in its earliest days, is allowing AT&T to move functions that used to sit in hardware on the customer's premises into the AT&T cloud, something that is definitely becoming an industry trend.
"That allows us to instantiate services very quickly and really change the game and dynamically route at capacity and intro new features," Goodell says. "Historically, we have been dependent on hardware being on prem to do certain things -- in the future, with NFV, we may not have to be reliant on that on premises hardware."
Our OSS in the Era of NFV & SDN event digs deeper into how telecom service providers are planning to evolve their operations to manage virtual networks. You can check it out here on Light Reading.
Open APIs are a network-wide initiative at AT&T, but for Network on Demand, in particular, they are critical, he adds.
"It does a couple of things -- it allows us to employ non-traditional players, smaller companies and open source alternatives to participate in the ecosystem and that helps us innovate and move very quickly," Goodell says. "I will tell you that what we are doing with Network on Demand heavily relies on that as one of the technical elements of our solution."
For competitive reasons, AT&T won't identify the vendors with which it is working on this piece. The company has said working with smaller innovative vendors is key to its Domain 2.0 strategy but of the companies that have been identified, only Affirmed Networks Inc. , Metaswitch Networks and Tail-f Systems would be companies that aren't considered giants, and Tail-F was subsequently bought by Cisco.
But AT&T expects to differentiate its service offering based on a combination of internal and external expertise, Goodell stresses.
The open APIs themselves won't be a differentiation -- AT&T is sharing information about its internally developed APIs and the standard technology component models related to Network on Demand through contributions from its newly formed to groups including OpenStack and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) , according to the company.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading