AT&T: 75% of network will be software-driven by 2020

AT&T (NYSE: T) is leading the way to a world of software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), making good on some of the promises it laid out earlier this year.

In fact, John Donovan, senior executive vice president, AT&T Technology and Operations, put a line in the sand, saying in a blog post that AT&T's goal is to virtualize and control more than 75 percent of its network using a software-driven architecture by 2020.

It's an ambitious target, he notes, for the transformation that AT&T announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, earlier this year. Using what AT&T calls the User-Defined Network Cloud, the vision is to create products and services faster than before, with more flexibility and services on demand and scaled to meet specific needs.

With SDN, the company is building systems that anticipate customers' needs rather than just responding to them, Donovan said. The AT&T Labs Advanced Technologies team last month launched quality-of-service technology in its data centers that detects which applications a customer is running and allocates bandwidth for the most critical tasks.

"For example, if you're running a video conference and basic data analysis task in the cloud at the same time, the system will prioritize the video conference and reduce the data flow for the lower-priority analysis," he said.

AT&T's Advanced Technologies researchers also built a streaming cloud environment for its mobility network data centers, so it can deploy new functions into the network almost instantly with a software update. Previously, it had to install new hardware each time it added a new functionality. "Today, we can upgrade in minutes rather than months," he said, echoing an oft-heard mantra associated with SDN/NFV.

AT&T is also starting to virtualize and put into production critical network functions such as Domain Name Service (DNS), Network Analytics, Intelligent Data Platform and Virtualized Provider Edge Router, improving cycle time, elasticity and operational efficiency, the copmany said.

The company tapped further into the expertise of the computer science and IT world with the appointment of Andre Fuetsch as its senior vice president of architecture and design, replacing Marian Croak, who retired this fall. Fuetsch's background in computer science and IT is notable because AT&T is taking SDN concepts recently applied to data centers and cloud applications and bringing them to the wide area network (WAN)--"all with the reliability and security our customers expect," Donovan said. Fuetsch reports to CTO Krish Prabhu.

AT&T is also collaborating with open source groups like OpenStackON.Lab, Open Daylight, OPNFV and others to develop the software that will power its new network. AT&T's Domain 2.0 supplier program is based on an open, cloud-based architecture, allowing the telco to collaborate with a variety of vendors. AT&T has announced 10 vendors so far that are working with the company to move into a more software-centric world, and that includes some traditional network equipment vendors.

For more:
- see this AT&T blog post
- see this RCR Wireless News article

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