Indigo: A New Shade of AT&T
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Open Networking Summit -- Perhaps more so than other major events, this one has become something of a measuring stick of the industry's progress on a couple of key things -- adoption of virtualization and cloud-native technologies, and embracing of open source approaches.
It has also become a place where new trends and challenges emerge and begin to be discussed and charted. Along those lines, my list of key takeaways involves some things from both categories -- the new and uncharted and the charted progress of the familiar.
As with almost everything else from this intense week of discussion, the takeaway list is getting rather long. So, I'm going to break it down into a couple of digestible bites. First, I'll share what I think is a singular takeaway which dwarfs the rest of the list. Tomorrow, I'll get to the most often repeated themes of the week.
That one big-picture, takeaway item is simply this: The transformation process to virtualized, cloud-based, software-driven architectures isn't just changing what network operators buy, but how they buy it and from whom -- and what they are expected to handle themselves.
I've already written a fair amount about how pricing models are under intense pressure and I'm likely to write much more on this topic. But there is also a fundamental shift that AT&T's John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president of AT&T Technology and Operations, described efficiently in his keynote here.
As AT&T moved from its legacy network to Domain 2.0, its first crack at multi-vendor software-defined networking, and now to Domain 3.0 and Indigo, the company went from specifying what it would buy -- "being a good supply chain" -- to being an integrator of hardware and software from multiple vendors, to being the architect, Donovan noted. And with every move, AT&T took on more risk and had to acquire new skills.
In hindsight, Donovan noted, becoming an integrator doesn't seem so hard, especially compared with what came later, but at the time, "we were extremely nervous as to whether we had the competence to deal with all the complexity of service chaining and virtualization -- of figuring out how to move from appliance world to the complexity of more of a systems world," he said.
Certainly, having to architect its own network operating system, which AT&T essentially did with ECOMP, now part of the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) open source project, was even more difficult. AT&T also had to break everything down into individual network functions and begin to virtualize those functions. That process will cross the tipping point this year if AT&T's team can hit the 55% target Donovan has set for them in 2017.
Developing Indigo is yet another stretch. It's the first iteration of the abstraction layer that will sit on top of AT&T's access networks, SDN and network operating system, to deliver the data-powered services that make all the rest of the work worthwhile.
AT&T is certainly at the forefront of this process, along with a few others, and probably no other company has been determined to tackle the transformation any more publicly and aggressively. But most global players will have to get to this point, either alone or in concert with others, if they are to truly compete at the services level -- what Donovan calls being a differentiator.
"If we do this correctly and we decompose our network into its primary functions and those functions are properly built, we have a vociferous capability to gather data out of our network," he said. "[The data can] go into a loop to build automation and machine learning, to allow our network to be the best it is capable of, not only for how we build networks, but for how we authenticate customers on the network, how we deal with threats -- all those traditional services that used to sit outside networking now become part of networking."
service providers get in free.
AT&T will name its evolving platforms in shades of blue -- its traditional logo color -- starting with Indigo. Just as Android and IoS platforms evolve, so will AT&T's platform evolve, sitting at an abstraction layer above its access network technologies, including 5G, its software-defined networking and the many data flows within the network.
This rapid service delivery point stage is where the entire telecom industry is heading -- at least it's where those who'll survive must be headed. If you are interested in hearing more about this particular process, and about Indigo and where AT&T is headed, consider joining me and John Donovan at our Big Communications Event in Austin where we'll be doing a fireside chat that delves deeper into these very topics. You can find more information about that here.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading
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