For its business customers that want to use virtual network functions (VNFs) but prefer a Cisco-based infrastructure, AT&T is providing the Cisco 5000 Series Enterprise Network Compute System (ENCS) hardware and Cisco software.
ENCS will provide AT&T customers in nearly 90 countries and territories with a fully virtualized platform based on the Cisco Enterprise NFV architecture. And these customers will also get access to a library of VNFs. The first two VNFs AT&T will provide are for routing and security.
AT&T already offers an NFV platform for businesses — its FlexWare platform , which is available in more than 200 countries. But Josh Goodell, vice president for edge solutions at AT&T, said there are key differences between ENCS and FlexWare.
“FlexWare has a very similar virtual platform vision, but the ecosystem of VNFs has been growing and will continue to grow,” said Goodell. FlexWare offers routing VNFs from Juniper and Cisco. In addition, FlexWare includes security VNFs from Palo Alto Networks, Check Point, Juniper Networks, and Fortinet. It offers a WAN optimization VNF from Riverbed. And it now includes a VNF for SD-WAN from VMware/VeloCloud.
AT&T refuses to confirm which vendor it uses for its FlexWare device. Although AT&T has placed advertisements on SDxCentral showing a Juniper-branded device.*
“ENCS is different; it is a Cisco stack from top to bottom,” said Goodell.
With ENCS we’re starting with routing and a firewall. Those are always the obvious ones for customers. With Cisco ENCS, the next VNF we are looking at is SD-WAN with Viptela.” Cisco purchased Viptela in 2017. And Goodell said that functionality will be added to its ENCS platform for AT&T customers later this year.
This seems like a good place to clarify AT&T’s various SD-WAN offerings.
“We support multiple flavors of SD-WAN today, matching the tech to meet customers’ needs,” said Goodell. “We think there is an over-the-top SD-WAN approach the industry is familiar with. FlexWare supports that with VeloCloud.”
And to recap, AT&T plans to offer Cisco/Viptela SD-WAN later this year through the ENCS platform.
The service provider also offers a “network-based approach” to SD-WAN, “which is unique,” said Goodell. “It’s incorporated into our MPLS backbone.” AT&T says its network-based SD-WAN is dynamic, meaning that it includes dynamic application aware routing. This SD-WAN is based on a combination of software from VeloCloud and homegrown AT&T technology.
AT&T’s announcement that it’s offering Cisco’s ENCS to business customers is similar to an announcement by BT in November 2017. BT said it would provide Cisco’s ENCS hardware and Cisco Network Services Orchestrator (NSO) software to enterprise that prefer a Cisco infrastructure.
BT said the Cisco ENCS box is suited for midsize to large sites. Goodell said at AT&T, “There has been a lot of customer interest. So far it has been large customers with a lot of endpoints.”
*After publication, AT&T confirmed that Juniper does build the FlexWare device to AT&T’s specifications.