DALLAS – During a keynote address at this week’s AT&T Business Summit, Melissa Arnoldi, president of technology and operations at AT&T, laid out five pillars that the telecom giant views as key to its network evolution. These include 5G, software-defined networking (SDN), data insights, microservices, and security.
The carrier’s 5G work has been well established with plans to roll out commercial services beginning in late 2018. Arnoldi said the network enhancements are going to be crucial in supporting its family of applications. She touched on current network trials and plans for expanding those trials as the carrier nears commercial deployment.
AT&T has also been aggressive with its SDN plans, including often-touted targets of virtualizing 75 percent of its critical network functions by 2020. Arnoldi said the carrier really did not have any choice in terms of moving toward greater use of SDN, claiming network usage trends were “outpacing what hardware could do.”
“We really had to rethink everything,” Arnoldi said. She notes the carrier’s 250,000 percent increase in data traffic over the past 10 years and expectation of 10-times growth over the next five years. “We have reached a tipping point and have made the pivot. We have made the investment and started delivering services in new ways,” she said.
Arnoldi also noted the carrier would be able to combine its SDN efforts with its physical reach to support its edge computing architecture model. She said few companies have the actual physical capabiliites of AT&T in terms of deployed hardware, and that it views its cell towers and central offices as “small cells at the edge of the cloud.”
This push is expected to be important for driving down network latency in support of use cases like autonomous vehicles and public safety.
Data Insights and Microservices
That cloud work is also feeding into AT&T’s data insights, which is a way for the company to mine network traffic and use analytics to help enterprise operations. Soon after taking her new position, Arnoldi created a new chief data officer position to help focus the company efforts around data supply chain, big data, and automation. “We are not new to using data,” she said. “We are in a position to help our customers with their data.”
Microservices are also set to be a significant part of AT&T’s future, both internally and externally. Arnoldi said microservices were the future of software development, and many of the company’s own platforms would be built using this architecture.
That architecture builds applications using independent services designed to work together instead of legacy systems that were built from a single, monolithic architecture. These independent services support specific business functions and can ideally be re-used across platforms.
AT&T is currently using a microserviecs architecture for its Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), which it calls the “brains” of its SDN operations.
AT&T this week launched its microservice supplier program. The initial launch is with IBM, which will help develop microservices across sales, ordering, and enterprise data for AT&T’s backend support systems.
Arnoldi said AT&T was looking at migrating the more than 2,200 applications in the company’s IT system to a microservices architecture to “create more agility, speed, and scalability.” The carrier expects to have 200 applications migrated by the end of this year, and 90 percent migrated by the end of 2021.
The security pillar was shown as more of an all-encompassing component of the network evolution, wrapping around the other pillars. This need was highlighted by Arnoldi claiming AT&T detects more than 90 billion potential vulnerability probes each day on its network.
The company’s security efforts include embedding security control in the cloud to monitor global traffic and network access. Arnoldi also noted SDN and open source have provided an advantage as they allow the company to shift its network security focus from a macro level down to a micro level.
AT&T is also working with the country’s nationwide mobile operators on a mobile authentication “task force” for developing a one-touch customer authentication model via a mobile device.