Verizon is slashing the bond between software and hardware for network routers. The carrier has started to deploy new routers from Cisco and Juniper with disaggregate control plane software running on external compute resources to boost the performance and control of those routers.
The company is using software-defined networking (SDN) technology to combine those service edge routers for Ethernet and IP-based services. Software control will come from a single common compute platform based on x86 architecture.
Michael Altland, director of network infrastructure planning at Verizon, said the deployment of the new routers started late last year and will continue through the end of next year. The carrier also will replace legacy routers with the new platform, though the timing on that is still in the air.
“Instead of having dedicated Cisco and Juniper software running dedicated Cisco and Juniper hardware, we are going to centralize software control,” Altland said. “This will give us the flexibility to scale out service much quicker and with greater control.”
The push is focused on the broader services market, as opposed to Verizon’s current software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) and uCPE plans that are more focused on enterprise locations.
“This is not something that is going to be deployed in a far edge or deep customer space environment, but more of where we have our traditional routers deployed today,” Altland said.
The carrier doesn’t consider the new boxes as true white boxes because they aren’t tied to a vendors’ specific software. But, they consider them a move toward a white box environment because it decouples the software from running directly on the hardware.
“This is really step one on a multi-step journey in how we decouple software and hardware,” Altland said.
Ed Chan, SVP of technology, strategy, and planning at Verizon, late last year told an investor conference that the company’s intelligent edge network is basically changing how the service provider is running the network by making software the control point for the network, which means it’s easier to automate services and share different network assets.
“We created this multi-services edge platform that is actually software control,” Chan said during a Barclays investor conference. He noted that this significantly alters the network by making it function more like a cloud at the core and at the network edge.
Rival AT&T has also moved aggressively down this path. Those efforts started in early 2014 as part of its Domain 2.0 program, and have continued with significant work in pushing vendors to help the carrier re-architect its network.
The carrier also recently open sourced a disaggregated network operating system to control white boxes deployed across its network. That project, dubbed DANOS, is being hosted by the Linux Foundation. AT&T plans to deploy 60,000 white boxes powered by the DANOS software across its network over the next several years in support of its 5G plans.
“White box represents a radical realignment of the traditional service provider model,” said Andre Fuetsch, CTO and president of AT&T Labs, in a statement. “We’re no longer constrained by the capabilities of proprietary silicon and feature roadmaps of traditional vendors. We’re writing open hardware specifications for these machines, and developing the open source software that powers these boxes.”
AT&T recently released a white paper noting that 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.
At the end of the year, AT&T had virtualized and gained software control of 55 percent of its network resources. The company plans for 65 percent control by the end of this year.