Why so fast? AT&T races to adopt SDN and NFV


Being able to ramp up new services and applications — and generate revenue from those offerings more quickly — underpins AT&T’s investment. Credit: agsandrew

AT&T is embracing SDN and NFV with a new initiative designed to simplify and scale its network, a massive undertaking that some industry-watchers say represents the most ambitious effort of its kind.

“The difference is like if Mercedes said they were building a hybrid car versus Mercedes saying all their cars will be hybrids in five years,” Iain Gillott, an analyst at IGR Inc. told Bloomberg.

SDN, or software-defined networking, separates the control plane that governs a network from the forwarding plane that sends packets through it. NFV, or network function virtualization, takes the network processes that are traditionally performed by specialized hardware and moves them onto software platforms that can run on less expensive generic computing platforms.

Early adopter

Both concepts are relatively new, with many observers marking VMworld in late August as the breakout moment for this next phase of virtualization. AT&T, seen as an early adopter, plans to begin selecting vendors beginning late this year.

AT&T is not revising its $20 billion capitol expenditure estimate for 2014-15 as a result of the initiative it is calling Domain 2.0. But the program may lead to reduced capital spending in subsequent forecasts. This spending outlook suggests AT&T believes in vendor claims that these technologies can lower costs.

An SDNCentral interview with AT&T technical architect Margaret Chiosi back in July now appears as a harbinger to the news that emerged last week. In the piece, Chiosi said AT&T sees three value propositions from NFV:

  • Reduced cycle time: For the introduction of new services as well as the removal of old or poor services.
  • Increased flexibility: The composition or decomposition of functions will allow AT&T to be more flexible in responding to the marketplace and creating APIs more quickly.
  • Reduced cost: There’s a goal at AT&T to reduce the total cost of IT ownership.

Framework for innovation

“It is critical that AT&T has one framework that the suppliers can build their products on and allow focused innovation to occur much more rapidly,” said Chiosi, who has worked on establishing industry standards for NFV as a member of the European Telecommunication Standards Institute.

SDN and NFV together will not only help the carrier create new services and applications, but also generate revenue from them more quickly in a secure and reliable manner, AT&T said.

“Over the next five years, you will see a virtualization of the network,” AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson reportedly told a Goldman Sachs financial conference last week.

Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn is a journalist covering the tech beat and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He lives in New Jersey, where he had worked as a staff writer for several leading daily newspapers and websites.
Nick Clunn
Nick Clunn
Tags: Technology,Virtualization