SANTA CLARA - Open Networking Summit - AT&T has broken down a barrier with a coast-to-coast trial of white box switching that took less than three months to implement.
The domestic white box field trial, which AT&T believes to be a first in the telecom industry, is notable on several fronts, according to Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer, AT&T.
"This is more than just about lowering cost and achieving higher performance," Fuetsch said during a Tuesday morning keynote at the Open Networking Summit. "Frankly that's table stakes. This is really about removing barriers, removing layers. [It's about] removing all of that internal proprietary API stack that we've lived with on these legacy IT systems. Now we can bypass all of that and go straight to ONAP."
In order to implement the white box switch trial, Fuetsch said AT&T teamed up with "disruptive vendors." Barefoot Networks, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), Delta Electronics, Edgecore Networks, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and SnapRoute provided the standardized hardware and open source software that powered the white box switches.
At one location of the field trial, Delta's Agema AGC7648A switch used Broadcom Qumran silicon chips and the SnapRoute network operating system. A second location used Edgecore’s Wedge 100BF systems built using Barefoot's 6.5 Tb/s Tofino silicon whose forwarding plane was specified using the P4 open source programming language to perform standard switching and routing and In-band Network Telemetry (INT) functionality.
AT&T tapped into Intel's architecture-based processors to run SnapRoute's operating system that managed the Barefoot and Broadcom chips and the various interfaces on the boxes.
"[One thing] I want to highlight here is the ease of use of utilizing the P4 in-band network telemetry," Fuetsch said during the keynote. "We were able to use this on top of the Barefoot/Agema chip. It was really remarkable what we were able to see. This gives us, for the first time, unprecedented fine-grained visibility on a per packet level. If this were like a medial conference I would be talking about how we're moving from X-rays to MRIs. That's how big a deal this is.
"Think about being able to find the state of every packet in your network. This is no longer the world of trace routes and relying on SNMP," he added.
In an interview with Telco Transformation after the keynote, Fuetsch said AT&T was part of the P4 community and that as far as he knew AT&T was the only large service provider using P4.
"We programmed some of the packet pipeline processing with the open P4 language," Fuetsch said. "We did this running WAN carrier features such as MPLS. We managed the white box network with telemetry into ONAP."
Fuetsch said a traditional hardware box from an OEM vendor typical took 12 to 24 months in labs before it was put into production, but the white box switch trial cut that down from dozens of months to less than three months.
"In all of my career, I've never seen us deliver something from chip to production that quickly," Fuetsch said. "So we're really excited about the potential of what these white boxes can deliver."
Traditional OEMs needed to decide if they were going to take part in the move to white box switches or sit on the sidelines, he said.
"This isn't anything new to them," Fuetsch said, noting that a lot of the vendors are already opening up and disaggregating their products, albeit at a slow pace. "We're hoping this announcement will help with where the industry needs to go."
About five years ago, processing 6 terabits per second of packets required half a dozen refrigerator-sized routers in a data center or central office, according to Fuetsch.
"Now, processing 6 terabits per second can be done on one chip that fits in the palm of your hand installed in a white box that is the size of a pizza box and all controlled by an open common, network OS," Fuetsch said.
One example of white box switches' use in the future is 5G and IoT. The in-band P4 visibility would enable a car to get information, such as an upcoming pothole, from the car in front of it in real time.
"This is really fantastic and we think this is going to open up a whole new opportunity of things to come," Fuetsch said. "This is about pushing software programmability as far down into the switch as possible. Now we've completely sped up the process by this open, common approach. This is really removing the barriers of entry and innovation."
Fuetsch said a broader deployment of the white box switches would take place in the coming months.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation