Telcos ripping out boxes: AT&T’s SDN journey: Page 2 of 2
By Benjamin Cher May 3, 2016
Hardware to ‘openware’
AT&T’s journey came with its own set of challenges, with getting vendors on board one of the main ones, according to Siracusa (pic). After all, vendors themselves are making their own journey from selling hardware boxes to licensing software.
Another challenge was making the move to open source software, to prevent having software linked to proprietary hardware. This would allow decisions on software, hardware and vendors to be completely separate and independent.
“We didn’t want to move to an SDN environment and then have it proprietary [and locked into any single vendor]. If any given vendor was virtualising its functions that required its own hardware, I would still be left with a bunch of separate elements,” he argues.
AT&T realised it had to engage with open source communities, and is in fact very active now in the OpenDaylight initiative, according to Siracusa.
OpenDaylight is a collaborative open source project hosted by the Linux Foundation, which aims to speed up the adoption of SDN and create a solid foundation for NFV (network functions virtualisation).
“We are simultaneously building it and pushing the industry in this direction – it is a big paradigm shift,” says Siracusa.
Having a large enterprise base one of its core functions around an open source platform would have been unheard of 10 years ago, but “I believe more innovation happens in an open source community than when you are in your siloed box working on things yourself,” says Siracusa.
“I’ve worked at AT&T 29 years now and this is a paradigm shift for us – things that we would have considered our secret sauce, we now see value in driving this capability into the open source community.
“We see the value in other carriers using the same software models and APIs (application programming interfaces. … the more consistency there is, the better,” he adds.
App store-like standards
And to have this consistency, there is a need for standards.
“As we move to software, we want APIs to be consistent – how you control and orchestrate software should be consistent,” says Siracusa.
For example, if you want two different vendors to have the same configurations for a particular service, it would require the vendors having experts coding on the command line interface level.
But with a more software-driven approach, the definition of that service can be laid out and pushed to the vendors, which can provision the function without having to build proprietary code, according to Siracusa.
“So I’m not building a bunch of proprietary command line interface code engines for each vendor, I now have the standardised software model service we want to create,” he says. “The vendors that support the model can be used in our network.”
He likens this to Apple and Google app stores, which are platforms to sell other services.
“The [SDN] environment it is very similar – if you are consistent in supporting the software models and APIs, we become a great avenue to sell that capability,” says Siracusa.
“We’re not looking to build firewalls or routers – what we are looking to build is a vendor-agnostic platform that we can control and orchestrate services on, and a platform that vendors can build towards,” he adds.
On track, and more
Despite the challenges, AT&T is committed to its SDN journey.
“In 2015, our goal was to have 5% of our network architecture running on an SDN platform – we ended up beating that with 5.7%,” says Siracusa.
“The goal for 2016 is to get to 30% of our network running on an SDN platform by the end of the year, and to get to about 75% by 2020.
“This is not just one service, but a complete evolution of our architecture to be software-based,” he adds.
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