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Optical/IP

AT&T’s New Gods

Hossein Eslambolchi, AT&T Corp.’s (NYSE: T) CTO, is getting giddy about MPLS. And AT&T is about to make one of the largest commitments to the technology.

At the Network Outlook conference here in San Francisco this week, Eslambolchi elaborated on the “Concept of One,” and then on Thursday on a conference call, he and Mike Jenner, VP of AT&T Global IP Network Services, spent over an hour talking Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and how it would unify the entire AT&T network.

In a span of three short years, AT&T believes it will go from today’s network of many to tomorrow’s network of one, using MPLS as the glue to unify all services, all customer applications, and all customer interaction with the network within a single logical framework – all by 2005. Is that possible? Not in three years. Is it necessary? Let’s see.

Eslambolchi and Jenner claim their enterprise customers are clamoring for a more unified network services offering, as they transform their own networks by unifying around Internet Protocol (IP). Under AT&T’s Concept of One, legacy networks such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and frame relay will be consolidated logically into a single network infrastructure through the implementation of MPLS and interworking standards. Already, customers of AT&T’s frame relay service can transition to “IP-enabled Frame” without any new gear at the customer premises. Their service is transitioned within the POP from the core ATM network to a core MPLS network, compliments of an MPLS blade on Cisco’s ATM switches. Any-to-any connectivity is supported, and the process for scaling any frame relay service is much simplified.

Concept of One is extended now to encompass all access services, which will someday be aggregated onto a new edge device called the MSP (multiservice access platform), a sort of “mini-God box” that accepts all sorts of services, packetizes them, and then aggregates them onto a Gigabit Ethernet link for transport to a larger office where a box called the MSE (Multiservice Edge) will aggregate those further and hand them off to the switched MPLS core. Both of these “mini-God” and “Big-God” boxes are interesting to behold. Think of the mini-God as a low-cost pizza box that can sit at the customer premises or end office, and the other, larger God as a very scalable edge platform that can handle up to 400 Gbit/s and provide all the necessary interworking between the legacy AT&T networks and the new MPLS-enabled core.

This undertaking, dubbed “Project Pluto” over the past few years, is coming to a head. AT&T claims they will make a vendor selection on the MSE by the end of the month, but every vendor I’ve spoken with says the requirements are impossible to fulfill, so the selection will pretty much involve the definition of what AT&T wants followed by a forced partnership between a startup and an OEM to accomplish the task. Who supplies the pizza box (and can make a profit on it) remains an open question.

Isn’t it funny how everyone hacks on startups for trying to build God boxes (only after they have been spurred to do so by an RFP) that, of course, no incumbent vendors would ever use? They ask you to build a God box and when you do you are ridiculed for your hubris.

But, before looking forward, let’s first look back. The first step in the Concept of One is to retire 130 legacy systems, though AT&T has not specified which ones. I would guess that means Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) (Stratacom) ATM switches, but it’s impossible to say until that happens. These boxes will be replaced with whatever is selected for the MSE, a system with plenty of legacy interfaces facing out and IP/MPLS facing into the network core. Which are the leading contenders? I’m guessing they’re most likely Cisco, Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), and startups like Équipe Communications Corp. and Laurel Networks Inc. Cisco must be considered the leader, because the AT&T data network is primarily Cisco gear.

With the MSE boxes in place, AT&T can MPLS-enable all of their network services, from frame relay to ATM to IP. VPNs will now be MPLS VPNs, and all the legacy services will be “IP-enabled.” The beauty part, AT&T claims, is the new level of consistency at the edge of the network. Performance measurement, management, and SLA verification will all be standardized around MPLS – though the AT&T execs we spoke to were clear in saying this is AT&T’s MPLS, so this functionality applies to those services beginning and ending on AT&T’s network.

Beyond the Concept of One, which intends to unify and integrate network services around an infrastructure of Ethernet transport and MPLS-based service creation, there is the “Concept of Zero,” in which service delivery is both highly reliable and automated. Within the Concept of Zero, all human-to-human and human-to-machine interaction eventually becomes automated, putting application and service control in the hands of the customer rather than the network operator.

Eslambolchi claims this is the first time in AT&T’s history that it is actively opening its network to the customer, enabling new levels of customer network management, service creation, and ordering. This is largely accomplished through new OSS (operations support systems) and BSS (business support systems) developments and is aimed at empowering the enterprise customers with the tools to basically create their own network services as they transform their own internal networks.

In this light, Eslambolchi sees AT&T’s future network as one based on two functional layers: one of connectivity, another of mediation. Mediation, he claims, is the process of bringing applications onto the unified network infrastructure and includes the building blocks of routing, security, directories, and connection control. A service like voice is no longer conceptualized as a service, per se, but an application that rides on a distributed IP network. Same goes for multicast video, corporate extranets, e-learning, and garden variety enterprise apps like CRM (customer relationship management). Application servers are accessed across the network by any variety of devices imaginable, from desktop PCs to supercomputers, mainframes, PDAs, cell phones, and televisions.

This is the heart of the matter, and reinforces what another large carrier recently told me. The edge of the network must become adaptive and programmable for application support. If AT&T’s Concept of One pulls that off, Eslambolchi deserves sainthood. If not, well… They have made some nice looking PowerPoint.

— Scott Clavenna, Director of Research, Light Reading

capolite 12/5/2012 | 12:23:18 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Optical is right on about Jack Waters. His business ethics are in the gutter. He is deceitful and evasive. He uses vendors to work out his severe emotional problems. He is a major reason behind the destruction of $20B+ of shareholder value. It is disgraceful that they are paying him $500K/year.
BobbyMax 12/5/2012 | 12:24:06 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods AT&T has wasted so much of its sources that it is hard how it exists. It is hard for me to believe that AT&T has decided to deploy MPLS without knowing anything about its scalability. It also does not know how to monitor the performance of MPLS throughout the network.

MCI, Sprint and other minor carriers having away its markey share, but AT&T does not have a business model from which its requirements, needs and profits can be protected.

It has a new CEO who is unable to make the company profitable. It is time for him to go. When he was at Pacific Bell, he did not do anything to make the company profitable.
dogmeat 12/5/2012 | 12:24:19 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Scott, you said a mouthful with "This is a fiber fed device, so not exactly universal..." All the joyful and thought provoking services that are spun always assume that local loop isn't fabulously expensive and is available. Even with T and VZ delivering fiber direct to my enterprise, I still need to manage the significant costs of the access. With no slack in my access, I don't see how advanced on-demand services can be realistically implemented until there is financial reform there.


>Here's a shot, though some of these are AT&T >specific, as noted.
>
>MSP- MultiService Access Platform
>This is what AT&T, or at least the CTO, has >conceptualized as the universal access platform, >meaning it is small (1 rack unit), supports both >circuit and packet client side interfaces, then >packetizes those and aggregates them into a >single Gigabit Ethernet pipe for carriage >upstream. This is a fiber fed device, so not >exactly universal [snipped]
Tony Li 12/5/2012 | 12:24:21 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Strong words. As a friend of Jack's, I have to point out that for the 10 years that I've known him he's been rational, sensible, and totally straightforward. I don't always agree with him and he's always haggling on price, but altogether he's been a pleasure to work with.

Tony
optical 12/5/2012 | 12:24:22 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods In regards to the CTO comments, Jack Waters is a disgrace to Level 3. For his superiors to be such impressive folks (my opinion), how has this deranged guy lasted? I'm dumbfounded.
capolite 12/5/2012 | 12:24:22 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods What other problems does Level 3 have?

Their unethical business practices?

Their psychotic CTO? And his team of brown-nosing sycophants?

Their discredited Silicon Economics?

Their destruction of $20B worth of wealth among Omaha investors?



fiber_r_us 12/5/2012 | 12:24:24 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Which problem would that be?

Not filing bankruptcy?

Not being indicted for fraud?

or growing their customer base to the point their backbone is now number two or three??
fundamental_guy 12/5/2012 | 12:24:27 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods That explains their problems.
fiber_r_us 12/5/2012 | 12:24:45 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Level 3 has been doing this for over two years now...
rush21 12/5/2012 | 12:24:47 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods
Despite MPLS guy's unabashed "homerism" and love for all things Masergy, he is right about one thing. Masergy is already doing exactly what AT&T is hoping to do in three years. MPLS core, MPLS Layer 2 and 3 VPNs, Ethernet transport, Frame-relay replacement, automated provisioning, end-to-end QoS (based on TOS and not CIR), and customer control/automated service creation. Being able to start from scratch has its advantages!
MPLS guy 12/5/2012 | 12:24:55 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Laurie,

Nice tip.

With Masergy running MPLS, over Native IP, the future is already here.

Thanks,

E.B.

gea 12/5/2012 | 12:25:09 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods "Creating specialized services over leased bandwidth is not a new business model. ISPs and wireless service providers do that today."

Agreed, but it's different from what could be possible with a full-fledged MPLS infrastructure. Current specialized services are still circuit-based, even where ATM exists. (ATM does not support best effort.)

And if this infrastrcture were end-to-end, then one day we might actually see something like "Video Conferencing on demand" (where a temporary, high-bandwidth real time flow is created for an hour or two), or currently unimaginable services.

Needless to say, this has been a sort of holy grail in both ATM as well as MPLS circles, but it's cool to see some giant carrier with tons of $$$ actually try it (of course, I'm not an AT&T investor....)

Scott Clavenna 12/5/2012 | 12:25:24 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Here's a shot, though some of these are AT&T specific, as noted.

MSP- MultiService Access Platform
This is what AT&T, or at least the CTO, has conceptualized as the universal access platform, meaning it is small (1 rack unit), supports both circuit and packet client side interfaces, then packetizes those and aggregates them into a single Gigabit Ethernet pipe for carriage upstream. This is a fiber fed device, so not exactly universal, but would be located at the business customer prem, and maybe the home someday once it achieves commodity level pricing. Today, these are designed to cost around $3,000 to $5,000 each.

MSSP- MultiService Switching Platform
This, I would guess though I haven't seen this one very often, refers to the ATM-brand of multiservice switch, meaning a cell-based switching system that adapts all traffic to ATM cells and transports them across the WAN. This could one day be replaced by an MPLS-based switching system, AT&T's MSE, which would append an MPLS label to all packetized traffic flows and transport them across an MPLS-enabled WAN.


MSPP- MultiService Provisioning Platform
This has commonly been used to refer to those systems that take multiple services in (TDM, ATM, Ethernet) and map them into SONET using standardized (GFP, LAPS) or proprietary mapping/framing mechanisms. These systems tend to have both packet switch fabrics and TDM cross connects, so perform some level of packet aggregation and switching plus bandiwdth management.

Since this is SONET oriented, it typically resides within the transport network, rather than within the data network and is more geared around metro services rather than WAN services. AT&T today uses the Cisco 15454 as their MSPP but has claimed they want to get greater efficiencies out of this platform by migrating to a pure-packet solution based on MPLS and Ethernet, the MSP.


MSE- MultiService Edge ___?
This is a term used by AT&T to describe the evolution of their ATM switching infrastructure, today provided primarily by Cisco, through their acquisition of Stratacom years ago. This new MSE box would take in ATM, frame relay, Ethernet and IP but would no longer be based on a cell-switch fabric. Instead, it would be a hybrid of sorts, turning every service into MPLS and providing the necessary interworking between these layer 2 services and the MPLS-based core IP network already deployed in AT&T. This interworking is key at the control plane level, so end devices can use their existing operations methods but at the same time take advantage of the scalability and ultimate ubiquity of MPLS in the core. This is essential once you envision the millions of end points on a large network like this. ATM struggles to scale cost-effectively and operationally to those levels.

How do these differ from Routers?


The boundaries are blurring, but basically these devices have much richer layer 2 capabilities and a much wider range of client side interfaces. But again, the boundaries are blurring, and many router vendors believe they can be designed as MSEs or MSPs through some control plane tweaking and new line cards, so you'll see lots of ongoing debate and confusion here, to be sure.

Scott
jim_smith 12/5/2012 | 12:25:27 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods "... one could imagine the existence of intermediate companies that create specialized services on top of the AT&T MPLS infrastructure and then sell them to end users ..."

************************************************

Creating specialized services over leased bandwidth is not a new business model. ISPs and wireless service providers do that today.

The only new thing I see with an (G)MPLS infrastructure is the "bandwidth on demand" capability. It will be interesting to see whether the "bandwidth on demand" capability will really create new services, or it will die just like the other penniless cool ideas that have seen in the recent past.
eschrob 12/5/2012 | 12:25:28 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Scott- I've seen so many TLAs that I numb. Can you provide a writeup or link that better explains these?
MSP- MultiService Access Platform
MSSP- MultiService Switching Platform
MSPP- MultiService Provisioning Platform
MSE- MultiService Edge ___?

How do these differ from Routers?
road__runner 12/5/2012 | 12:25:29 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Can't that be done today ? It seems like a customer could buy an ATM PVC/SVC from AT&T today and sell their own services on top of it. Or are there contractual clauses that prevent customers from doing that ?
gea 12/5/2012 | 12:25:30 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Damn this is the kind of thing that makes the geek in me get all hot and bothered. Don't tell me it won't work or that it'll cost far more than it will ever make, 'cause I'm not trying to hear that, see?

If it worked (and I've got my fingers in my ears so yes it will yes it will yes it will), one could imagine the existence of intermediate companies that create specialized services on top of the AT&T MPLS infrastructure and then sell them to end users (whereas AT&T's own apps might be more wholesale/Large Market-oriented).
douggreen 12/5/2012 | 12:25:44 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods In the words of Yogi Berra, this is deja-vu all over again.

This is the exact same path that ATM edge went down in the 1990s, all at the direction of the strategist at the service providers. The holy grail was a product that could support any service (including TDM via circuit emulation). The problem then was exactly as it was now: the product was technically feasible, but could never meet the price points to make the services profitable.

If history repeats itself, the companies that pursue the dream will find themselves priced out of the market. The companies that build cheap, focused boxes will win the most business.
jim_smith 12/5/2012 | 12:25:52 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods The Concept of Zero Accountability

The CTO will never be held accountable for the psychadelic visions he/she will get every so often so that he/she can justify his/her existence.

No, really... does anyone keep track of what these guys say and then compare it with what really happens? I've always felt that the CTO should really be named CHO (Chief Hype Officer).
Garam Masala 12/5/2012 | 12:25:54 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods GǣThat was the Tachion business model, no?Gǥ

Tachion started with a polytheistic business model.
The monotheists invaded and installed their religious hierarchy.

Garam
flanker 12/5/2012 | 12:25:57 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods They ask you to build a God box and when you do you are ridiculed for your hubris.

Scott-What you described isn't god Box architecture. You are talkiing about ethernet access trunked onto an MPLS enabled backbone.

It isn't news that MPLS bridges the gap between layer2 and layer3.

By contrast, each node on a network designed around God box architecture would accomodate ATM, IP, ethernet and switched voice traffic on a different access blade and presumably dump the traffic over SONET on the transport side.

That was the Tachion business model, no?













erbiumfiber 12/5/2012 | 12:26:24 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Well, while they have applied for "concept of one" as a service mark:

http://tess2.uspto.gov/bin/sho...

at LEAST they haven't applied for "the concept of zero" as a service mark. There is still hope for the intellectual property department...

Thanks for posting the link.
Garam Masala 12/5/2012 | 12:26:40 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Don't underestimate the power of Zero.

Garam
Scott Clavenna 12/5/2012 | 12:26:41 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods You'll find it in his own words here:

http://www.comsoc.org/livepubs...

Scott
Garam Masala 12/5/2012 | 12:26:41 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods I have a Yahweh box...
Does that count?
skeptic 12/5/2012 | 12:26:42 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Isn’t it funny how everyone hacks on startups for trying to build God boxes (only after they have been spurred to do so by an RFP) that, of course, no incumbent vendors would ever use? They ask you to build a God box and when you do you are ridiculed for your hubris.
------------------
Just to be clear, the RFP's for the god-boxes
have not been around all that long and they
vary depending on the carrier. When you do
a startup, you have to guess a couple years
out usually what people are going to want.
And making those guesses for the god-boxes
has proved to be extremely problematical.

The fact that nobody got it right in the end
proves how difficult it was to guess requirements
on something that didn't exist and wasn't clearly
defined by the customer at that time.

erbiumfiber 12/5/2012 | 12:26:45 AM
re: AT&T’s New Gods Please, please, please tell me that this is NOT the actual name for this project! From the column:

>>Beyond the Concept of One, which intends to unify and integrate network services around an infrastructure of Ethernet transport and MPLS-based service creation, there is the GǣConcept of Zero,Gǥ...<<

OK, "The Concept of One"- that's a cute little slogan-looks good on a T-shirt, mug, pen, etc. You can have nifty "kick-off" meetings. "The Concept of Zero" sounds like a project Dilbert would be assigned to (like the brown ring of quality that Dogbert, the consultant, creates for a project a la the Lucent "ring of innovation" or whatever that is.)

So many start-ups and established companies got burned on the whole "god box" thing, it figures that T is just picking up on it now that it has come and gone (and I guess is coming again according to your article...).

Good column-captures the whole T organization rather nicely...
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