AT&T champions DriveNets cloud networking software

BARCELONA — DriveNets is a seven-year-old, Israel-based company that took the same concept of disaggregation of hardware and software that the big cloud providers use for storage and compute, and it applied it to networking.

DriveNets is now involved with nearly 100 service providers globally. Some are customers, and some are in different phases of testing and evaluation. The company’s most famous customer is AT&T, which has been using DriveNet’s software in its networks since 2020.

The company has 470 employees and has secured more than $500 million in investment.

RELATED: DriveNets secures $262M in Series C funding

DriveNet’s technology is not the easiest to understand. So, it was nice that at MWC in Spain this week, the company hosted a presentation for analysts and media in order to explain its work. Members of the panel included Igal Elbaz, SVP and network CTO at AT&T; Ido Susan, co-founder and CEO of DriveNets; along with two other executives — one from Orange and one from Telefonica.

Susan kicked off the presentation with a description of the company’s product — Network Cloud.

He compared it to the virtualization craze that hit the IT world more than two decades ago. “So if you're looking on the compute and storage industry, it starts from the mainframe moving to x86, then virtualization of VMware, and now everything is cloud as we're familiar, but nobody is aware on the hardware where it is running,” he said. “We did exactly the same on the networking. You have virtualization to shared infrastructure, and then you convert your network from hardware-based solution to software shared infrastructure.”

He said today, if a customer goes to a vendor such as Cisco, Juniper or Nokia, they will find “families of hardware” that are designed for specific use cases. The vendor will sell the customer a chassis, and the customer will plug in line cards. “But once you select the chassis, you are locked with this vendor for at least seven to 12 years,” said Susan. 

DriveNets wanted to disrupt this model. So, instead of proprietary boxes with routing functionality, it provides white boxes that are manufactured by ODMs, and then DriveNet’s software is loaded on those boxes. “You have the virtualization layer equivalent to what VMware has in compute and storage, and then you convert your network to run as a shared infrastructure on top,” said Susan.

DriveNet’s software is not limited to core routing. It can run a variety of network routing services where networks meet other networks, such as in large colocation facilities, internet peering sites, aggregation sites and access sites. Traditionally, each routing service was handled by dedicated machines. But Network Cloud allows service providers to run multiple networks in separate software containers over a shared physical infrastructure of standard networking white boxes.


AT&T’s Igal Elbaz said, “We've been in this disaggregation, virtualization and software-defined networking journey for almost a decade, and we've been very public about this.”

Because network traffic just keeps growing, AT&T felt compelled to develop an approach and an architecture that would allow it to scale its network much easier than before.

“The part that we're using [with DriveNets] is our core backbone,” said Elbaz. “We are carrying 590 petabytes every day. That's a lot of traffic. And on our core backbone already over 50% of the traffic is running on an open, disaggregated architecture where the network operating system is DriveNets.”

Of its work with DriveNets, he added, “We enjoy this relationship. We enjoy the disruption. We enjoy the ability to work together and push some boundaries in our ability to deliver not just software, but actually a full service. We can deploy the reliability and the rigor that a telco at our scale needs.”

Orange and Telefonica

Also on the panel at MWC was Jean Louis Le Roux, deputy executive vice president for International Networks with Orange.

Le Roux said Orange needs elastic networks, and the solution is disaggregation of hardware and software, so that the network can be managed like the cloud in a flexible way.
Orange is currently in the experimental phase. “We decided to start with a very, very simple use case,” said Le Roux. “We started with our layer 2 aggregation switches. You know, switches that are connecting B2B customers at 1 gig, 10 gig or 100 gig. So we decided to buy a white box. And for this very simple layer to switch we decided to drink our own champagne. That is, we selected an open-source network operating system Sonic. And with our own software developers we decided to customize and we have been deploying end of last year the first switch and we are scaling. We will have 1,000 switches in a fully disaggregated mode by the end of this year.”

Le Roux said Orange is in advanced discussions with DriveNets, which “is clearly a very good candidate.”

There was also an executive on the panel from Telefonica — Cayetano Carbajo, VP for core, transport and service platforms.

Carbajo said, “Peering and transit is where we have been considering DriveNets. We have been testing DriveNets, and the result has been good. I have to convince my operational businesses to make their life a bit more complex because they have to manage separately hardware and software, and DriveNets has to be competitive with the situation we have in each country.”