In SDN push, AT&T focuses on retraining its employees for software-centric world

AT&T (NYSE: T) has been one of the leading proponents of software-defined networking (SDN), transforming its network into a more flexible system. The carrier is also in the process of restructuring its workforce to deal with that new paradigm.

As The Wall Street Journal notes, the carrier is going through a mammoth retraining for its 130,000 employees, as the company shifts to SDN and away from legacy proprietary hardware systems through network functions virtualization (NFV). Thus far, AT&T's employees have completed nearly 1 million courses in everything from Agile software development and project management to real-time distributed computing, the report added.

AT&T has said it wants to have 75 percent of its network be software-centric by 2020 and aims to complete the first 5 percent of that this year. As part of that shift, AT&T is looking to integrate its internal IT and network teams and adopt a DevOps model to emphasize such collaboration.  

"We're trying to make sure we can evolve our capabilities and processes in a DevOps model to scale," Scott Mair, senior vice president of technology planning and engineering for AT&T, told the Journal. To help spread the model and the message across the entire company, AT&T is leaning on a 2014 partnership it struck with Georgia Tech and online education company Udacity. The classes cover everything from software testing to SDN, data center networking and content distribution.

"That's the pivot we're in the process of doing," Mair said, acknowledging that while it will take time to make the transition, AT&T needs to do so to cut costs and deliver services through its network faster.   

"There are a lot of people with really good skills at AT&T but they need to have skills for where we're going, working in software and a cloud-type of environment," he said, adding that the goal is to shift employees' mindset from traditional ways of constructing networks to a software-focused model.

Tom Keathley, senior vice president of network and product planning at AT&T, told FierceWireless in late March that the Layer Four functions in AT&T's network are among the easiest to virtualize. Those include aspects like consumer-business VoIP, the mobility packet core, gateway and policy functions in the packet core.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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