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SDN Powers AT&T, IBM On-Demand Cloud Connections

Carol Wilson

Software-defined networking is at heart of a new solution developed by AT&T, IBM and Applied Communication Sciences (ACS) that can very quickly provision temporary bandwidth to handle massive traffic flows between data centers. The partners say capacity can be turned up on-demand in less than a minute, compared with the multiple days such a move would take using current network capabilities. (See AT&T, IBM, Others Team on Elastic Cloud-to Cloud Networking .)

Developed as part of the U.S. Government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Dynamic Multi-Terabit Core Optical Networks (CORONET) program, the proof-of-concept uses an SDN orchestrator developed by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) to enable on-demand bursting of traffic between data centers using whichever layer of the network is most appropriate, whether it's the IP/MPLS layer, the optical transport layer, or a wavelength.

The solution was designed to replace the rigid private line WAN infrastructure that cloud service providers use today to connect most data centers. It also enables a new kind of on-demand traffic bursting, beyond the capabilities AT&T is providing with its NetBond service, and beyond what other service providers offer with their bandwidth-on-demand solutions, says Bob Doverspike, executive director of Network Evolution Research at AT&T Labs . (See AT&T Working on Home-Grown SDN Controller for Later in 2014 .)

As part of its User-Defined Network Cloud, AT&T wants to provide the ability to support massive data backup between data centers, for storage area network synchronization, recovery from large weather or environmental events, and to support other large customer events, he says. For the proof of concept demonstration, AT&T connected IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)'s orchestration software and hypervisors, used by cloud service providers, to the network orchestrator developed in its lab via an SDN interface, and allowed the orchestrator to decide which layer of the network was best suited to carry specific traffic. (See AT&T Working on Home-Grown SDN Controller for Later in 2014 .)

"We then used smart routing algorithms to decide how to route it efficiently over that layer," Doverspike says. The connections can be built up and taken down as needed and used to connect any data center on the network to any other data center, replacing multiple rigid private line connections in the process.

This approach, which was built on OpenStack's open cloud computing platform, takes advantage of the fact that AT&T offers all three layers of WAN network connectivity -- the IP/MPLS layer, the OTN layer and the physical dense wave division multiplexing layer -- and can dip into its network resources to give cloud service providers a much greater ability to burst up to support large network events without having to pay for a rigid network infrastructure that otherwise isn't fully utilized.

The demonstration used common equipment and network management from a data center -- in this case, Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) gear was used, Doverspike says -– and IBM cloud network orchestrators, as well as AT&T infrastructure. The SDN interface developed in the AT&T lab connected the IBM orchestrators and the network, and was set up as an applications programming interface (API) that defined the types of bandwidth that could be requested, the duration and quality of connection, and the distance. ACS provided project management for the effort.

"By defining the API, we now have a rapid way to request the bandwidth using automatic software -- this is not a manual process," Doverspike explains.

Want to know more about SDN? Check out our dedicated SDN content channel here on Light Reading.

AT&T also used SDN technology -- either from its vendors or, where that wasn't available, internally developed -- to control each of the three layers of the network. The carrier is looking to implement Open Daylight in this area as that SDN controller technology becomes available, adds the AT&T man.

AT&T is already using SDN to deliver its optical mesh network service at the Layer 1 level, but that is a process that isn't as fast, and only functions at that layer. It was by building on that earlier work that AT&T took this project in the direction of SDN, says Chris Rice, vice president, advanced technologies, at AT&T Labs, because that wasn't where the DARPA project was originally headed. (See AT&T Spotlights Early SDN Efforts.)

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Roland Leners
Roland Leners,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/4/2014 | 2:58:02 AM
OSS implications
I would be interested in any references on the OSS implications of this solution, especially for service assurance.
User Rank: Light Beer
8/1/2014 | 9:28:41 AM
Re: SDN Powers AT&T, IBM On-Demand Cloud Connections
With respect to the comment by the AT&T exec at the very end of the article: the CORONET program was initiated in 2006, prior to the emergence of SDN.  SDN can be viewed as one enabler of the CORONET dynamic networking vision.

A dynamic network infrastructure will likely fuel the development of more applications, such as those described in this article, that can take advantage of such dynamism.


More information on DARPA's CORONET Program can be found at:

CORONET Publications:

CORONET Network Topology File:

Many of the CORONET innovations, as well as SDN, are discussed in the chapter on dynamic networking in the newly released book "Optical Network Design and Planning, 2nd Ed."
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/31/2014 | 1:31:55 PM
Re: SDN Powers AT&T, IBM On-Demand Cloud Connections
@OptSim, thanks much!  That is great information!
User Rank: Light Beer
7/31/2014 | 12:38:03 AM
Re: SDN Powers AT&T, IBM On-Demand Cloud Connections
More information on DARPA's CORONET Program can be found at:

CORONET Publications:

CORONET Network Topology File:

Many of the CORONET innovations, as well as SDN, are discussed in the chapter on dynamic networking in the newly released book "Optical Network Design and Planning, 2nd Ed."  (

User Rank: Light Sabre
7/29/2014 | 6:45:43 PM
Re: SDN Powers AT&T, IBM On-Demand Cloud Connections
Carol, very impressive project and demonstration of the power of SDN.  This appears to be a really "smart" move that will provide highly competitive connection capabilities.

It's hard to imagine, if they bundle/price this correctly, that customers won't demand this capability.
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