Network Infrastructure

AT&T Offers An Update on Its SDN, Virtualization Strategy

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  September 16, 2015

INTERNET TELEPHONY recently interviewed Andre Fuetsch, senior vice president of architecture and design at AT&T (News - Alert), to discuss what the company refers to as its transformation to a software-centric company. Here’s an edited excerpt.

To what extent is AT&T using SDN today and for what?

Fuetsch: Just the network-on-demand self-provisioning feature for business customers. But more is to come soon over the next six months.

Is AT&T leveraging Linux containers? How, when, and why?

Fuetsch: We’re looking at all sorts of container technologies, and we see them playing a big role as we roll out these virtualized solutions.

Who are AT&T’s key vendors for its software-centric transformation?

Fuetsch: We’ve made public the suppliers we’ve certified as Domain 2.0 suppliers. That list includes Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson (News - Alert), Cisco, Ciena, Metaswitch, Brocade, Affirmed Networks, Fujitsu, and Amdocs.

My understanding is that part of the telcos’ reason to move to NFV and SDN is to avoid vendor lock in. Yet most of these companies are rather large suppliers with which telcos like AT&T has been working for years. What about startup vendors/smaller vendors?

Fuetsch: We have three disruptors in there. Brocade (News - Alert) (for load balancing and router functionality as well as its Vyatta controller distribution), Affirmed Networks (for the virtualized EPC), and Metaswitch (for use in the AT&T Universal Service Platform, including Metaswitch’s SBC and possibly other solutions). They are new companies for us; they are smaller companies. But we’re also looking at introducing a whole other list of disruptors as well. We’re going to expand that considerably in the near future.

What orchestration solution will AT&T employ?

Fuetsch: There is so much activity right now in this space that right now there’s a sea of controllers, a sea of orchestration solutions. A lot of them are open; a lot of them are proprietary. We’re placing bets on a lot of different ones, and as they grow some will be adopted more than others, that way we’ll have more flexibility.

Are there key missing pieces for NFV and SDN to realize their promise? What, and how is AT&T and the industry as a whole working to fill those gaps?

Fuetsch: In terms of gaps, there are none in particular, but one area that will get solved is how we deal with performance on top of this virtualized infrastructure. Some rely on technology to help get performance improvements with X.86 architectures. There are some capability opportunities that we need to fix or find better solutions for. Not everything can run on x86; you will have to have specialized hardware for certain cases. Bare metal switches, as long as they have open interfaces, that’s ok.

Is there an estimated date by which AT&T’s software-centric transformation is expected to be complete?

Fuetsch: 75 percent of our network functions will be virtualized in the next five years. 5 percent of our overall network functions will be virtualized in software and SDN control is our target for this year. There are 200 network functions we’re working on. 

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino