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It's OpenStack or Vendor Lock-In, Says AT&T

Iain Morris
10/6/2016
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Telco resistance to OpenStack is ebbing away as doubters come to realize there is no viable alternative to the open-source cloud platform, according to Sorabh Saxena, AT&T's senior vice president of software development and engineering.

The US operator, widely seen as a pioneer in the software and virtualization area, has warmly embraced OpenStack while a number of other Tier 1 carriers, such as the UK's BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), have continued to eye it with some degree of skepticism, seemingly out of concern it is not "carrier-grade."

Saxena concedes that OpenStack is "not 100% complete" but says that if operators wait for a "clear, guaranteed, cookie-cutter solution" they will find themselves back in the "old world of long cycle times and vendor lock-in."

"There are no other private clouds out there," he says. "The performance demands and need for network functions customization cannot be addressed by another solution, quite frankly."

Even so, in an effort to drum up support for OpenStack, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has recently been involved in setting up a large-scale operators and carriers (or LCO) group within the OpenStack Foundation, the association that promotes OpenStack, to address some of the concerns about the technology, such as its integration with existing operational tools. French telco Orange (NYSE: FTE), Japan's NTT Group (NYSE: NTT) and US retailer Walmart are other high-profile members of the LCO, according to Saxena. (See AT&T Rallies Carriers Around OpenStack.)

Such initiatives, combined with the contributions AT&T has been making to OpenStack development, are helping to overcome the remaining resistance to the open-source technology, says the AT&T executive. "There are quite a few companies now joining hands and accepting OpenStack as a private cloud," he tells Light Reading.

The US telco has used OpenStack to develop its AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC), a reference architecture that is to shape the design of more than 100 data centers, under current plans. Among other things, AT&T claims to have been working with Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR)'s Contrail SDN technology to address service chaining and performance problems related to OpenStack. "We are making improvements in OpenStack and across our own implementation," says Saxena.

Service chaining was one of six key challenges described by Peter Willis, BT's chief researcher for data networks, during a presentation at the SDN & Openflow World Congress in October last year. At the time, BT had threatened to drop OpenStack and use an alternative technology -- which could potentially have been a proprietary solution from VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) -- unless the OpenStack community tackled those problems. (See BT Says OpenStack Still Not Up to Spec.)

Five months later, during the MPLS/SDN/NFV World Congress in Paris, Willis highlighted satisfactory progress in four of those areas but said there was still work to be done on backwards compatibility and the connection of virtual network functions.

Nevertheless, other major operators outside the US have dismissed concern about OpenStack technology during conversations with Light Reading. "In my view, carrier-grade is an old expression," said Yogesh Malik, the chief technology officer of VimpelCom Ltd. (NYSE: VIP), when asked in April if he was worried about OpenStack immaturity. The European service provider, which operates networks in Russia and across a number of emerging markets, is keen to make use of OpenStack as part of its investment in virtualization technology. (See VimpelCom Plans Global NFV Tender.)

In February, Middle Eastern telco giant Saudi Telecom Co. (STC) also threw its weight behind OpenStack, saying it would use the technology to support all new virtual network functions and that alternatives did not match up in terms of cost benefits. (See Saudi Telecom Pins NFV Future on OpenStack.)

Recent research carried out by Heavy Reading also indicates that operators now see considerable value in OpenStack, although many plan to follow their vendors' lead when it comes to implementation.


For more NFV-related coverage and insights, check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.


AT&T, however, is determined to continue shaping the agenda when it comes to software and virtualization technologies. "We're not dependent on big vendors," says Saxena. "We are collaborating with open source communities and innovating ourselves and working with key service providers to solve these problems."

Those remarks chime with comments made by Greg Stiegler, AT&T's assistant vice president of the cloud, during a presentation at the OpenStack Days Silicon Valley event last month. "We're making great progress with OpenStack but we can't do it alone," said Stiegler, as previously reported by Light Reading. "The velocity we really need requires collaboration and joint development with other, like-minded participating companies. Large operators, really." (See AT&T: OpenStack Needs Central Leadership .)

Under its current strategic plan, AT&T is looking to virtualize 75% of network functions by 2020, and Saxena says the operator is on track to reach a threshold of 30% by the end of this year.

It has already launched a number of on-demand offerings that take advantage of these technologies, including this week's AT&T FlexWare package, and it plans to make services more widely available and feature-rich as the network overhaul gathers pace. (See AT&T Getting Business VNFs to Market Faster and AT&T Joins SD-WAN Fray.)

"You will see us entering many more markets and you will see services continue evolving in 2017," says Saxena. "As AIC nodes are deployed, you will see us providing more network functions, even in areas where we don't have access networks. We'll also bring together various SDN [software-defined networking] services to offer the full package of solutions to the end customer."

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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