AT&T is banking that its Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP) platform will create opportunities for standardization worldwide, according to AT&T's Mazin Gilbert.
By putting its ECOMP architecture into open source with the Linux Foundation , and opening it up for use by other service providers, AT&T is attempting to bring law and order to the Management and Orchestration (MANO ) sector. (See AT&T's Rice: ECOMP Reaches Critical Mass and Bell Canada Joins AT&T's ECOMP Roster.)
AT&T announced last year that Orange (NYSE: FTE) and BCE Inc. (Bell Canada) (NYSE/Toronto: BCE) had signed up to use ECOMP, with additional service provider announcements forthcoming, and that "Open" ECOMP would be released in the first quarter of this year.
AT&T developed ECOMP internally several years ago as the automation layer for its network software and virtual functions, tying both virtualized and legacy elements together. ECOMP is a VNF automation platform that's comprised of 8.5 million lines of code and eight major software subsystems.
In the first installment of this Q&A, Gilbert, who is vice president of advanced technologies at AT&T Labs, said "hundreds and hundreds" of people had worked on ECOMP, both internally and externally, and that it was the most complex project ever undertaken by AT&T. (See AT&T's Gilbert Talks Virtualization .)
Gilbert goes into more detail about ECOMP and orchestration in this second installment while the third part of the Q&A will focus on OSS/BSS and the impact that SDN is having on artificial intelligence.
Telco Transformation: There are other open source MANO options out there, such as OPEN-Orchestrator Project (OPEN-O) and Open Source MANO Community (OSM) . How is ECOMP different? Chris Rice [senior vice president, AT&T Labs] has said that one of the main differentiators is that it's more mature?
Mazin Gilbert: Chris said it right. I don't know all of the intricacies of OPEN-O or the others out there, but I would say that there are two things that are unique about ECOMP. The first is technological. The journey of ECOMP started four or five years ago. We started with an architecture that we put in a white paper. We've talked publicly about it with all of the service providers that have knocked on our door, and all of the service integrators. This architecture is very unique and it has a design environment. It really has an artificial intelligence framework that we call closed loop automation.
It's sort of a re-definition of how our systems should be done. This is very unique -- at least I'm not aware of anything like it. It's a model-driven, data-driven approach to orchestration and control. That to me is technological.
The other one is as Chris said; It's mature. There's a big difference between something you build today and you're looking to do a pilot with versus something that was built three or four years ago. We've had it in production for three or four years. When we have other service providers knocking at our door they don't have to reset the clock to where we were four or five years ago.
TT: ECOMP will, hopefully, bring clarity to the MANO sector?
MG: Open ECOMP will create a lot of opportunities worldwide to do standardization. This is an area that in the past has been mostly done in closed boxes and with very proprietary code. A service integrator would build something different for each service provider. We believe that this revolution will help us. It's not just clarity: It will also standardize how VNFs [virtual network functions] are created. How APIs are defined. How health checks are done. How telemetry data is captured. How policy is enabled. How closed-loop automation is done so you can get the reliability and security that consumers and businesses expect.
TT: Is there a single approach to orchestration? I keep hearing about "an orchestrator of orchestrators" at conferences.
MG: It's true there are many different levels of orchestration. Take ECOMP as an example. We have components that allow us to do orchestration, which we refer to as the MSO [Master Service Orchestrator], and then we have controllers. We have different controllers, but those are not just for orchestration. The controls are for layers 0 to 3 and layers 4 to 7 type of services and applications. The orchestrator is to orchestrate the VNF, the design and configuration of the VNFs.
But there's also control and orchestration of ECOMP as a platform itself. You can think of ECOMP as a VNF as a platform. For us to do zero touch continuous integration/continuous development you also need control and orchestration of the platform itself and every component of that platform, every microservice in that platform. It's true that there are different levels of orchestration, but ultimately the technologies are going to change over time. What we are still in the journey of doing is trying to figure out, independent of a technology, what we would adopt for orchestration. Whether we are dealing with OpenStack for the cloud or the VNFs or the platform itself. Ultimately what are the data models that we're adopting here?
That's what we are trying to standardize community-wise across global providers. What are the data models that we're adopting here as part of this movement?
To be fair, in ECOMP, part of this globalization is trying to figure out if there is a single way to orchestrate it, a single way to have a data model. We're not there so we are adopting multiple data models because they have different functions. We apply Tosca type of models for defining applications all the way to YANG and others. So there isn't one type of data model. There are probably three or four that we're adopting today.
Part of this globalization effort is we're open to finding out if there is one data model that helps us to do orchestration, or are there multiple? That's an area that will continue to evolve. No other service provider has captured one single way to orchestrate.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation