Conventional wisdom says Tier 1 telcos move like snails when it comes to implementing new technologies, particularly ones that require fundamental changes to their network architecture and business processes. AT&T is breaking that mold with its aggressive rollout of New IP technologies like virtualization and platforms based on open source software.
At this week’s AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas, senior executive vice president John Donovan provided an update on some of the operator's milestones and plans.
"Millions of [our] wireless subscribers are running on a virtualized network," Donovan said. "And our initial SDN product introduced in early 2014, that we call Network On Demand, is now used by more than 275 business customers around the world.
"We're doing this because our customers' expectations of what the network should be able to do are exploding. They don't want just more bandwidth. They want better capabilities."
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) also handily beat its goal of deploying 59 AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) nodes in 2015. Now in 74 locations worldwide, these nodes run OpenStack-based virtual network functions (VNFs). They also help move AT&T closer to its goal -- announced in June 2015 -- of expanding the amount of its software based on open source from 5% today to 50%. (See AT&T Details Software Shift.)
"AIC uses the same code base for both our enterprise apps -- us as a company -- and our carrier workloads: that externally facing network," Donovan said.
Scattering AICs globally in a cloud-style architecture has several benefits. Two obvious ones are providing service redundancy in case a node fails, and having them closer to more customers. Less obvious is the ability to configure an AIC to meet a country's unique regulatory requirements.
Open for business
But to wring the most out of its AICs, AT&T needs developers to use them. Basing them on
OpenStack is one way the operator hopes to make those nodes and the rest of its next-gen network more appealing.
"Building [our] vision in OpenStack is part of our commitment to collaborating with the developer and open source communities," Donovan said. "In return, I ask that you, the developers, embrace cloud native application development.
"Build applications with the cloud in mind. That's where the world is going, and it opens a new world of collaborative possibilities with companies like ours."
AT&T also is expanding its Foundry centers with a fifth location, in Houston. Colocated at the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute, the new Foundry will help developers and other entrepreneurs create and test IoT solutions for the health care market. (See Inside the AT&T Foundry.)
AT&T sees open source as key for success in IoT, too. That's why its Labs team recently created an open source programming language, Our Cloud, to help developers with big data analytics for IoT. It also created Nanocubes, an open source tool for visualizing the big data that IoT produces.
Donovan said open source will enable the seamless multivendor, multi-operator interoperability that IoT customers want.
"We think the open source community is uniquely positioned to enable this, free from concerns about a single vendor having lock-in," he said, citing OpenDaylight's IoT Data Management project as one example. "We're using OpenDaylight in our SDN initiative, and we're also supporting this IoT project. We need the developer community to support it, as well. I'm sure we'll see similar efforts from the other open source groups out there, and we’ll look into those."
Donovan also acknowledged that standards are waning as the be all and end all that they've been throughout telecom history.
"Before, our industry was built around a model where we specified, we standardized and then we implemented," Donovan said. "But that's too slow and cumbersome to move at the pace we need. While standards are still important, particularly in some of the regulated use cases around aviation and power, for example, we need a more agile approach. At AT&T, we knew we had to think fundamentally differently."
— Tim Kridel, Freelance Contributor, special to The New IP