Speaking at the OpenStack Summit here, Sorabh Saxena, AT&T’s senior vice president of software development and engineering, said the company is making a shift toward open, white-box, commodity hardware. “We’re going to liberate network functions from physical appliances,” he told the audience.
When the process is complete, Saxena said, the AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) will encompass more than 1,000 zones distributed around the globe. The reason for this effort is that the existing AT&T network is already straining under the load of 114 petabytes of traffic the carrier sees moving across its network every day.
The open source OpenStack cloud management framework is at the core of the program. Saxena said AT&T can now deploy a cloud comprising 10 or more OpenStack modules in a matter of days, using OpenStack deployment tools such as Fuel and Morano.
By year’s end, he said, AT&T will add three more modules to its OpenStack implementation: Mistral, an OpenStack scheduler; Designate, a DNS implementation; and Trove, an OpenStack database. Saxena said that with these elements AT&T has created a virtual control plane spanning both its network services and its own internal enterprise IT operations.
Saxena noted that what started as an AT&T software-defined networking (SDN) project to deliver networking-on-demand services is now a part of a much larger cloud computing strategy. Next up, AT&T plans to start deploying network functions virtualization (NFV) software on top of OpenStack all across its global network to replace physical appliances. Those services will then be made accessible via both a portal and a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that AT&T will expose to developers that want to programmatically control those services.
“We’re fully committed to OpenStack,” Saxena said. “It’s the foundation on which our SDN stands.”
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To make OpenStack simpler to deploy, according to Saxena, AT&T has developed its own cloud infrastructure design tools. Those tools will allow the company to automate a part of the OpenStack deployment process that had previously been manual. In fact, he said, the amount of time it takes AT&T to design a cloud has now been cut in half.
In addition, AT&T is making use of an OpenStack Resource Manager that leverages APIs to distributed images across zones and discover services in various regions.
“We were able to deploy 54 zones deployed in less than two months using automation. Without the Resource Manager that would be an operational nightmare.”
For carriers such as AT&T the shift to OpenStack is both an opportunity and a necessity. Cloud computing clearly creates an opportunity for AT&T to sell more services. At the same time, however, rivals such as Verizon and emerging competitors such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) have made it clear they intend to deliver network services via the cloud.
“In terms of the race to deliver NFVs in production, AT&T is definitely the pace car,” says Patrick Filkins, an industry analyst with Technology Business Research. “But what AT&T is doing is risky.”
Rather than relying on traditional networking vendors, AT&T is building its AIC using open source software and white boxes. Filkins notes that smaller rivals will likely lean on products from the traditional networking community to deploy NFVs at scale. He believes many of those smaller vendors may be able to deliver those services in production before 2020.
In the meantime, Saxena says AT&T is choosing to become the driver of disruption rather than waiting to be disrupted by rivals. “We’re choosing to be the disruptor vs. sitting in the passenger seat.”