For AT&T, SDN is no one-man job. Virtualization is a team effort -- and it takes extensive, multi-faceted collaboration.
Accordingly, as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) makes the move from hard-coded telco to that of a software company, it's focusing on partnerships, standardization and even open source.
Telco Transformation reached out to Rick Hubbard, senior vice president of Network Product Management at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), for an in-depth conversation on the thinking behind AT&T's approach to SDN and other virtualized technologies. In Part I of this three-part series, Hubbard ran down some of AT&T's SDN deployments for us -- including the cost efficiency and economics behind them. (See Hubbard Talks AT&T's SDN Strategy.) In Part II, Hubbard delved into the moving parts of AT&T's SDN strategy -- including security issues, corporate partnerships, vertical-based customer demand and platform-based scalability. (See AT&T's Hubbard: How SDN Helps Platforms Thrive.)
Now in Part III , Hubbard lays out how SDN standards and open collaboration come into play for AT&T.
Telco Transformation: What is the "high-level view" of how AT&T is currently focusing its SDN strategy?
Rick Hubbard: I think [AT&T CEO] John Donovan's been pretty public about our intent to transform our own infrastructure into software-defined infrastructures. To give you the high-level view of that, we are at the point of taking our provider-edge routers and virtualizing them in our own network for VPN service. We call it the "AT&T Integrated Cloud" (AIC), and you can think of that as the CO of the future. So rather than everything being a piece of purpose-built equipment, we have these intelligent clouds set up where we can run our own multiple virtual network functions across our own platform.
TT: Let's talk about standardization since you brought it up earlier in Parts I and II. One thing that I heard at a conference recently is: "Standards are like opinions; everybody has one." So in terms of standards and the demand for standards, where do you see the need for standards regarding SDN and other virtualized technologies, and what is AT&T doing about it?
RH: (Laughs) For us, part of it starts with the work we've done on ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy Architecture), which is our orchestrator. We've actually published all that work out and it is available for anybody to go get (here).
And, in fact, right now, we have also announced an agreement with Orange to work together on how to make SDNs of two different major carriers work together. (See Orange Takes AT&T's ECOMP on Test Drive and Seen & Heard: Orange Gears Up for ECOMP .)
I do resonate with your quote on that because, even if you bring it back to this SD-WAN business today, almost all of the SD-WAN providers today have proprietary systems. So our view here is that we picked VeloCloud Networks Inc. because they were the most similar to how we wanted to implement the technology. We wanted to implement and virtualize their VNF and our FlexWare device on the customer prem, take their cloud-control software, put it in our AIC -- but you will also notice in our announcement that we are not wed to that partnership being the only one.
So I do think that on the SDN players, there are a lot of them today. Some of them are startups. Some of them are purpose-built equipment that might do "purpose A" today and they want to go sideways. And, I think, if the market reacts with a demand to have more types of functions working together, then standards are going to become really important.
If the market reacts the way they do today, where VNFs still appear to be purpose-built and all you have really done is virtualized your purpose-built premise equipment into a virtual instance based on software, then I think it will keep pressing the issue of "How would standards ever change that?" I do think that with the equipment folks many of them are seeing virtualization as a way to move sideways. So the firewall guys get into routing, the routing guys get into firewalls, without creating two different types of pieces of equipment. so by definition, they are going to have to start becoming a little more open in the way they put these VNFs together. And longer term, what we are all going to need to care for is: How does that brand loyalty attach to what were previously equipment providers that are now VNF providers unless there is some sort of platform that takes hold?
TT: So speaking of standards and proprietary systems, what open-source communities is AT&T working with on SDN?
RH: We're involved in the open source community -- OpenStack, OPNFV, OpenDaylight, ON.Lab, OpenContrail, the Open Compute Project and others. Together, we're building software and standards as an industry. We're not only contributing to it, but also using what already exists.
TT: Can you tell me why AT&T chose to work with the Linux Foundation on ECOMP? (See Radio Show Recap: AT&T's ECOMP Defined.)
RH: The Linux Foundation has a history of aligning the open source community, and we want to be inclusive with ECOMP. It has a unique industry perspective because of its experience hosting other NFV and SDN projects. Our goal in open sourcing ECOMP is to harmonize the industry, creating a common approach to the entire VNF and SDN lifecycle process within an SDN-based network cloud. We think that open sourcing within the Linux Foundation gives us the best chance to achieve this.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation