AT&T says it’s not enough to deploy white box hardware and to orchestrate its networks with the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) software. “Each individual machine also needs its own operating system,” writes Chris Rice, senior vice president of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture, in a blog post. To that end, AT&T announced its newest effort — the Open Architecture for a Disaggregated Network Operating System (dNOS).
“If we want to take full advantage of the benefits of white box routers and other hardware, we need an equally open and flexible operating system for those machines,” writes Rice.
DNOS appears to be in the visionary phase. “Our goal is to start an industry discussion on technical feasibility … and determine suitable vehicles (standards bodies, open source efforts, consortia, etc.) for common specification and architectural realization,” according to an AT&T white paper, introducing dNOS.
AT&T says its global network includes more than 100,000 interconnected IP/MPLS routers from vendors. “These OEM routers were designed, developed, and sold as monolithic router platforms with vertically integrated proprietary hardware and software components,” according to the paper.
But recently, there have been a lot of advances that might allow operators such as AT&T to transition away from these proprietary router platforms. The paper cites advances in software such as DPDK and the proliferation of YANG models. It also cites advances in merchant silicon and the P4 language. The combination of these technologies constitute “building blocks that should be used to create an industry-standard NOS,” says AT&T.
The white paper indicates that AT&T wants to foster an ecosystem to build and advance its white box router vision. The company took a similar approach with its ECOMP platform. It began developing ECOMP in-house and then reached out to the open source world, pulling in other operators and vendors along the way. Ultimately, ECOMP merged with the Open-O open source group to form ONAP. (ONAP issued its first code release today). In the case of dNOS, AT&T seems to be asking for broader collaboration from the start.
AT&T has specified three high-level goals for dNOS:
- Separation of the router’s operating system software from the router’s underlying hardware (router chassis, routing controller, forwarding line-cards);
- Standard interfaces and application programming interfaces (APIs) that provide a framework within the base operating system, control and management plane, and data planes;
- Standard interfaces/APIs that provide a clean separation of control-plane from data plane.
Threat to Router Vendors
On its face, this vision of white box routers with an open operating system looks like a big threat to router vendors, such as Cisco and Juniper Networks. Both of those companies have already been suffering declining revenues in their service provider verticals. AT&T’s white paper gives a slight nod to these vendors, saying, “If widely adopted, [dNOS] also provides a larger commercial footprint and therefore more incentive for vendors to participate.”
But then the paper warned: “AT&T will evolve its router platform sourcing process to give preference to dNOS vendors whose products (or committed product-roadmap) are based on using this platform.”
IDC analyst Rohit Mehra said, “We’ve had this vision of a ‘disaggregated network’ in the industry for some time now, largely spurred by the network architecture that some of the larger cloud providers have deployed to meet their own infrastructure requirements. What’s different with AT&T’s initiative is their push for an open architecture along with the significant experience they have in assimilating various open source technologies, in conjunction with their ability to validate these technology solutions at scale.”
Andre Fuetsch, CTO and president of AT&T Labs, hinted at dNOS during the company’s AT&T Business Summit in Dallas earlier this month. Fuetsch said “We are very bullish on white box, there is no secret around it. The reality is that the webscale companies have been working with these for some time now. … We are going to push the boundaries across our network.”