AT&T gets even more software-defined with SDS

Ever wonder how AT&T (NYSE: T) is able to stick to its ambitious goal of making 75 percent of its network software-driven by 2020? Part of it might have to do with the experience it has via AT&T Labs.

Earlier this week, John Donovan, AT&T's senior executive vice president of technology and operations, stated that the company's goal this year is to reach 5 percent of its network with SDN architecture. "Five percent might not sound like a lot, but it's the critical first step for all the work to come," he said in a blog post.

That comes after Donovan last year revealed that AT&T's goal is to virtualize and control more than 75 percent of its network using a software-driven architecture by 2020.

AT&T says its journey would not be possible without the efforts made in AT&T Labs and across its innovation pipelines. Last week, AT&T hosted its biannual "Innovation Showcase" event, highlighting future innovations and technologies.

The showcase featured SDN-based technologies that AT&T Labs created, such as software-defined storage (SDS), which enables businesses to customize and automate storage solutions based on their own requirements and quality of service (QoS) needs; and cloud QoS, a technique for delivering dedicated bandwidth on-demand in a cloud architecture.

Chris Rice, vice president at AT&T Labs, notes that the company recently was recognized for a technical paper it wrote 10 years ago that explained some of the principles being applied today. "What that basically says is we have capability within the company to do SDN and to do SDN at scale, and we've been successful," he told FierceWirelessTech.

"The push now that we're talking about around our Domain 2 initiative, around our SDN/NFV, is company-wide at the highest levels of the company," and it has a much bigger impetus and effort behind it than anything it's done in the past. "There's a much different level of intensity around it now," he said. However, "certainly, those lessons we've learned and what we've done certainly educated us." 

SDS involves applying a lot of the same SDN principles to the storage space, such as separation of the hardware and software. "We've built a number of platforms that help us in this," both in the SDN space and now in the SDS space, he said.

One of the enabling capabilities is what AT&T calls its cloud QoS, which is essentially a platform technology that allows AT&T to do things like bandwidth allocation within the data center and service chaining while making sure it can do both network functions and storage functions "to the quality that we expect," Rice added.

How do you make sure everything is as reliable as it needs to be? The question of reliability occasionally comes up when telcos talk about moving to SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV).

Rice said he doesn't see a dichotomy there. With multiple boxes and redundancy, one can use techniques that improve reliability. 

Speaking of storage, SDS most certainly applies to the Internet of Things as more information is collected and analyzed. One of the components of IoT is gathering and storing information and then analyzing it for better insights.

So, does Rice have any reason to believe AT&T will not meet its SDN goals, either in 2015 or 2020? "I'm confident we can do it," he said. "I don't see any reason we're not going to be able to do it."

For more:
- see this AT&T blog post

Related Articles:
AT&T accelerates SDN vision by extending network on demand capability to 100 cities
Why AT&T, Verizon, Ericsson and the rest of the industry is embracing SDN and NFV
AT&T: 75% of network will be software-driven by 2020
Marian Croak on why and how AT&T is moving to SDN, NFV and an all-IP future with Domain 2.0

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