AT&T is plunging deeper into the world of software-defined networking with plans to develop its own controller for network bandwidth allocation and other services this year.
At an "Innovation Showcase" in New York City Friday, Marian Croak, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) SVP of Domain 2.0 architecture and advanced services development, revealed that the operator is working on a "controller" to manage network functions and services as Ma Bell moves to run its network on "low-cost hardware" with the functionality abstracted into software. (See AT&T Spotlights Early SDN Efforts.)
"We're building this programmable controller now. I think you'll see it later this year," Croak said. It will enable AT&T to better manage and reroute network capacity, amongst other services.
This wouldn't be the first time AT&T pioneered its own SDN developments. The company has been running an early version of SDN, known as intelligent routing service control point, or IRSCP, in its core network for six or seven years now. That technology, which separates the data and control planes and allows for distributed control of routing, is now powering AT&T NetBond, a service that lets enterprises connect to the AT&T cloud via secure links that appear as nodes on their MPLS-based virtual private networks. (See AT&T Spotlights Early SDN Efforts.)
The eventual aim is to let AT&T's customers tailor their networks to their own needs. "As customers of AT&T, you'll be able to design your own network," Croak said. This "user-defined network cloud" needs maximum flexibility in use of network resources.
There is a lot of work to be done, however, between now and AT&T reaching that lofty goal. To that end, AT&T has been refocusing a lot of its research teams on NFV and SDN work, Greg Bond from AT&T Labs told Light Reading at the event.
"The controller doesn't exist yet," Bond told us. He says that AT&T is working on multiple software-defined projects in the labs, as well as with established vendors and startups.
He stresses that AT&T isn't wedded to any particular specification for projects but has employed some for ease of use and so that partners have a frame of reference to work with. For instance, AT&T has used OpenFlow for data center bandwidth balancing.
Bond says that the new controller will pull from work being done across AT&T Labs. "We're working on three levels of orchestration," he says. The operator is using the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) standard as an SDN/NFV template for now.
Bond admits that AT&T is working on a tight schedule to pull together its ambitious software-defined plans. "We're working really hard on this," he says. (See AT&T Reveals Audacious SDN Plans.)
Still, Bond is cheered by the way AT&T has steered its ship resolutely into software waters. "I'm a software guy. So it makes me happy."
AT&T believes its early work in SDN, through the IRSCP and other efforts, gives it an edge in deploying virtualization, according to Chris Rice, vice president, advanced technologies, at AT&T Labs.
"We have seen how SDN can be deployed at scale in a wide-area commercial network," Rice told Light Reading. "We are some of the early pioneers of this stuff, and there are other things we've done that people haven't seen yet."
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading