AT&T is banking on SDN and automation to speed up the deployment of new services to its customers while also making its network more efficient, according to the telco's Amy Wheelus.
AT&T's Wheelus, vice president of cloud and D2 platform integration, spoke about the roles that SDN, NFV, automation, cloud and DevOps were playing in this Telco Transformation Q&A. She also provided an update on the company's partnership with Orange Business Services and Colt Technology Services Group Ltd that was designed to create a standardized approach for orchestrating services across multiple provider networks. (See Colt, AT&T, Orange Partner on Orchestrated Services.)
Wheelus and Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) CTO Andrew Dugan will dig deeper on SDN during a Telco Transformation webinar this Thursday.
Telco Transformation: What was your first SDN-related project at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) ?
Amy Wheelus: AT&T has a long history of software-defined networking. My first project was working on our CNI (common network interface) network almost 15 years ago. It was a predecessor to the current SDN projects. It had many of the characteristics of today’s software-defined networking, like automated provisioning, self-routing and auto-failover, but was implemented on proprietary equipment rather than as virtualized functions on commodity hardware with cloud orchestration that we are implementing today.
TT: How does SDN enable automation, and how important is automation going forward?
AW: Automation is one of the most important keys to developing speed and efficiency in serving our customers. By transforming our network to a software-defined network, we have opened the world of possibilities for automation. Without continued enhancement and evolution of automation in both network and processes, service providers won’t be able to deliver incredible new services at the cost point that customers need. We should think about automation as enabling humans to be freed from mundane repeatable tasks and allowed to use their skills and resources to innovate for the future.
TT: Is automation achieved through artificial intelligence, DevOps and machine learning?
AW: In order to be successful, we have to be intentional about automation and it needs to be pervasive across our system design. AI and machine learning can be viewed as the evolution of automation capabilities that have existed in the past. DevOps is a way that we link operational expertise with development expertise to streamline the development process and deliver operational efficiencies as a part of the initial capability delivery. In the past, we have often waited to deliver tools as a next step in the process. By creating a DevOps culture, we are accelerating the automation.
TT: Where is AT&T right now in regards to automation?
AW: AT&T has a history of implementing automation in our network and has a significant amount of automation already in place. We continue to add automation capabilities with every release. At AT&T, we are so focused on automation that we have created a chief data officer organization that couples our big data and automation efforts into one organization to deliver on our data analytics and automation use cases and enable our data-powered network.
TT: Will there be re-skilling of employees once automation is in place?
AW: Waiting for automation to be fully implemented would have been too late for re-skilling our employees. We launched our skills transformation project several years ago and AT&T employees have already taken 2.6 million web-based transformation courses. (See Fuetsch Shines a Light on AT&T's Digital Transformation Plans.)
TT: Can you give us an update on the SDN-related orchestrated services and trials that you're doing with Orange Business Services and Colt?
AW: AT&T, Orange, Colt and 20-plus other companies participate in the collaborative work to create a complete suite of standardized inter-provider LSO Sonata APIs dealing with address validation, serviceability, ordering, quoting, billing, assurance, testing and change management. The first release of the LSO Sonata SDK that includes address validation, serviceability, ordering APIs based on these definitions is now available.
TT: What role does SDN play in those trials?
AW: Sonata Release 1 and extensions will homogenize the inter-carrier and other collaborator – such as cloud provider -- interactions. This will elevate the “on demand” capability to the application layer and help eliminate the frictions and inefficiencies of the service implementation since the speed of activating SDN-enabled networks is considerably faster than the velocity of customer order creation.
TT: How are the first three APIs coming along and can you talk about how you are using MEF's LSO framework?
AW: We plan to have an update in the next month or so.
TT: What advice would you give other service providers in regards to deploying and using SDN and NFV, and what advice do you give your customers?
AW: SDN and NFV aren’t just a technology change coming in the future – they are a reality for today. The industry is moving quickly to SDN and NFV and if service providers don’t join the movement, they will get left behind and not have the technologies or cost profiles to be successful.
One of the biggest benefits of the movement to SDN and NFV is the ability to work together across the industry to innovate faster and deliver faster for our customers. By moving away from proprietary hardware, we are able to access a largely untapped resource of software developers that can partner with the strong network companies to deliver more efficient automated capabilities via software and virtualization.
TT: How will NFV and SDN evolve in networks and with customer applications and services?
AW: NFV and SDN will continue to evolve and change as the underlying technologies do. Containerization and microservices are examples of two software strategies or architectures that are improving the efficiency of the software design and increasing the speed with which we can innovate and deploy new customer applications and services.
TT: What role does SDN/NFV play in regards to AT&T's Indigo project? (See Donovan: AT&T Closes In on Tipping Point With Virtualization and Pacewicz: Indigo the Next Innovation Wave for AT&T.)
AW: Indigo, AT&T’s Network 3.0 release, will use our SDN platform as its foundation and build upon that to create a software- defined and data-powered network with blazing fast speeds. Indigo will enable every element of our network to become more seamless, efficient and capable.
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation