“Without some of those advantages [from the new Xeon Scalable processors] and capabilities that have been created in the software space, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” said AT&T’s Chris Rice, SVP of AT&T Labs and Domain 2.0 architecture. “It is a key underpinning in our SDN-network virtualization journey.
Rice described the relationship between AT&T and Intel as “a push-pull strategy. Intel pushed the technology into the ecosystem, the capabilities and the chips, and then we can pull it through the ecosystem.”
At Intel’s launch event last month for the new chips, AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan shared the stage with Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Center Group.
AT&T had already started running production traffic on the platform and seen about a 30 percent performance improvement compared to Intel’s earlier processors, Donovan said. “For us that matters because of total cost of ownership: we’re looking at about a 25 percent real improvement,” he said at the event, adding that the platform’s networking capabilities will further drive software-defined networking (SDN) and 5G across the telecom industry.
Working with Intel also helps AT&T build and accelerate time to market for its software-centric products including its virtual networking portfolio, he added.
“This is the first time we’ve had a service provider with live services when we were launching a product,” said Intel’s Lynn Comp, senior director of industry enabling and marketing, Network Platforms Group.
AT&T Workloads on Intel Chips
AT&T has deployed two workloads on Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors and says others are in the queue. The two workloads are AT&T’s virtual Content Distribution Network (vCDN) and its virtual VPN Internet Gateway (vVIG).
vVIG is a virtual machine that acts as an IPSec gateway between unsecure and secure networks, providing data security at the IP packet level. It uses Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) to speed up the cryptographic processing of IPSec data packets.
Using the new Intel processors allows the vVIG to support a larger data throughput for less cost and a smaller footprint. This includes up to 30 percent performance improvement in PPS handling compared to the earlier Intel platform.
AT&T’s vCDN — this is a service that allows customers to manage and distribute video and multi-media web content across networks — saw similar performance improvements after moving to the new processors as well, Rice said.
“We saw 25 to 30 percent performance improvements from moving it to Purley,” he said, referring to the processors’ code-name. “It was a pretty seamless transition, moving it from the older Intel CPUs onto the new one. We are able to do more with fewer processors, and we’re able to get more capabilities out of our CDN and grow it horizontally as well.
“And all of the improvements, whether on the process side or the architecture side, they all have some networking improvement piece as well,” Rice added.
These improvements are helping AT&T move closer toward its goal of virtualizing 75 percent of its network by 2020. During its second-quarter earnings call last month, AT&T CFO John Stephens told investors that the company has virtualized more than 40 percent of its network functions. It’s making progress toward its network functions virtualization (NFV) goal of 55 percent by year-end.
Comp says the two companies collaborated on the NFV infrastructure (NFVI) layer to help AT&T achieve its desired performance results through different network configurations. “They have seen a 25 percent reduction in servers and achieved 30 percent better performance over its current install base,” she said.
Some of these workload-optimized configurations are available through Intel Select Solutions for NFVI — packaged hardware and software stacks built on the new processors.
“This was based on a lot of our learning with AT&T and a few other customers,” Comp explained. “The recipes do really have a important impact on the TCO [total cost of ownership] and performance results that customers can get.”
In addition to deploying workloads on the new processors, AT&T and Intel have also teamed on 5G trials and several open networking efforts including AT&T’s open source white box switch, the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) and the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV).
“AT&T and Intel are doing a lot of work with open automation and work to harmonize overall orchestration and services delivery structure,” Comp said. “The hardware and software vendors don’t have to customize and create a special snowflake for every operator because that adds costs and frankly slows things down for the industry.”
The service provider has learned some lessons along the way to virtualizing nearly half of its network functions, Rice said.
“One is that I’m glad we started when we did,” he said. “We’re a heck of a lot smarter this year than we were last year and the year before that. So we’ve got a much better idea of what we need to do, and the automation and tooling we need, to go make that happen.”
This is why AT&T originally created the Enhanced Control, Orchestration, and Management Platform (ECOMP) for its own use, and then this year merged with Open-O, another open source project.
“We want to make sure the whole ecosystem moved with us toward network virtualization,” Rice said. “We didn’t want to have something special just for AT&T. We wanted it to be for the whole industry.”
Additionally, achieving network performance improvements requires automation, Rice said. “You’ll never get to those percentages without automation being a key part.”
Photo: Navin Shenoy, (left) EVP and GM of the Data Center Group at Intel Corporation, speaks with AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan during the introduction of Intel Xeon Scalable processors. (Credit: Intel)