SAN FRANCISCO – AT&T’s Amy Wheelus, vice president of Network Cloud, said that providers of virtual network functions (VNFs) have been eager to get onto the Airship platform — AT&T’s open infrastructure project for clouds. She explained that the operational benefits of the platform have allowed the carrier to cut the on-boarding of software updates to just a few days compared to the few weeks it took using its legacy AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) platform.
AT&T rebranded its telco cloud, which it had been referring to as AIC, into Network Cloud.
“We have seen really strong reception,” Wheelus said during an interview with SDxCentral at this week’s AT&T Spark event in San Francisco.
Airship greatly simplifies the control and provisioning of cloud services. This includes having a more streamlined process that is familiar to the software development community.
“Now it’s all in the same workflow,” Wheelus said. “There is a YAML declarative document we can use every time for all locations. If it’s in that YAML document we can operate it.”
AT&T launched Airship in May through a partnership with SK Telecom, Intel, and the Open Stack Foundation. That work evolved out of past work between the organizations as part of the OpenStack Helm project that launched last year.
The initial focus of Airship is the implementation of a declarative platform to introduce OpenStack on Kubernetes (OOK) and the lifecycle management of the resulting cloud. Basically, Airship allows operators to manage cloud sites at every stage from creation through minor and major updates, including configuration changes and OpenStack upgrades. It does this through a unified, declarative, fully containerized, and cloud-native platform.
“What Airship allows us to do is containerize our control plane,” Wheelus said. “This reduces the size of the control plane so the overhead went down and the unit cost is better. It also allows us to move faster.”
Airship is also the basis for AT&T’s rapidly advancing 5G network launch. “5G is our first use case,” Wheelus said, adding that the carrier has virtualized its 5G core that is now riding on its Network Cloud and being provisioned by Airship.
Airship Maturation Process
Wheelus did note that while gaining attention, Airship still has some maturation bugs to work out. She explained that the most pressing issue is minimizing the impact on network operations during more frequent update cycles.
“In Network Cloud if I have to reboot a host there will be an impact,” Wheelus said. “VNFs today are not as mature as a traditional IT app that works on the cloud. Those are more stateful, and that is a challenge for rebooting in a container environment.”
Wheelus said the carrier was working with partners to further develop on Airship in order to reduce that impact. “We have not solved all of that yet, but we feel we will be able to tackle this soon,” she explained. Despite issues, the carrier is very confident that Airship and Network Cloud are ready to support the carrier’s 5G plans. “We are very confident with that,” she said.
The greater adoption of Airship and Network Cloud will also allow AT&T to begin to wind down the AIC platform. “It will have a lifecycle and it will go away with Network Cloud,” Wheelus said. “We have an investment in AIC that we will continue to use and we are not going to throw it away.”
SDN Control Nears 65 Percent
Wheelus also said that AT&T was on track to hit its goal of 65 percent SDN control by the end of this year, but admitted that, “the last 10 percent will be hard.”
AT&T has been stating for years that it planned to gain SDN control over 75 percent of network operations that can be controlled by software by 2020. The carrier was at about 34 percent control at the end of 2016, and 55 percent control at the end of last year.
AT&T CFO John Stephens recently told an investor conference that part of the carrier’s $25 billion in planned capex spend for 2018 was targeted at SDN. Those efforts remain on track and are expected to eventually reduce total capex.
“But once you get there those investments you are making to achieve that goal ebb out. They either come down or effectively stabilize,” Stephens said. “So then you have the full benefit of that.”
Amy Wheelus, vice president of Network Cloud at AT&T; and Catherine Lefèvre, associate vice president for Network Cloud and infrastructure at AT&T Labs, on stage at this week’s AT&T Spark event in San Francisco.