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AT&T SDN efforts bear fruit: Network on Demand service debuts

AT&T announced a pilot of its SDN-powered Network on Demand service in Austin, enabling customers to order network services in seconds.

AT&T announced that the first phase of its SDN-powered "Network on Demand" service will be available in Austin, Texas, by the end of this year, with new cities coming online in 2015.

Network on Demand appears to be the first service born out of Domain 2.0, the AT&T SDN project aimed at transforming the network operator's infrastructure. Network on Demand will allow enterprises to order, provision and change AT&T WAN services, such as Ethernet connectivity and VPN, through a Web portal. The speed of turning on these services will be much faster than the typical network services buying cycle, a matter of seconds or days rather than weeks or months. To deliver this on-demand networking, AT&T is using SDN technology behind the scenes. Specifically, the operator has implemented a network orchestration and control software layer on top of its legacy network infrastructure.

To learn more about this AT&T SDN service, we spoke with Josh Goodell, AT&T's Vice President of Network on Demand, Mobile & Business Solutions.

What kind of new hardware and software is AT&T using to deliver the self-service network in Austin?

Josh Goodell: The beauty of what we're delivering is we are instantiating a software-defined networking capability on top of our existing network platform. That software orchestration layer is clearly new, and is one of the differentiators that enables us to shift from a hardware-centric model to one that is more software-driven. Many of the elements of the [legacy hardware] network will continue to exist. What's new is the SDN piece.

We've worked with vendors and we've done a lot of work internally.

We are not in a position to talk about which vendors we're working with at this point.

Have you added new protocols or software loads on your infrastructure to make this work?

Goodell: The integration of the software layer on the existing infrastructure has involved a lot of work, a lot of API development. There has been that overall orchestration, and design work has been significant. One of the things that will be unique for us -- given the complexity, the size and the reach of our network -- is turning the network into a more on-demand network. It has involved a lot of work on the API side as well as building the links between the software layers and the current hardware layers in the network.

Does this service include new architectural concepts like Network Functions Virtualization?

Goodell: Over time we will expand [this self-service network] geographically. That will be one of our first priorities.

In addition to that, we'll be adding additional services. As we add services, we'll start to layer in new technologies. One of the key technologies we will layer in as we offer those additional services is NFV.

Will this NFV implementation be aimed at customer-premises equipment?

Goodell: That's a very natural evolution. I think that use case is absolutely one we will look very closely at.

What benefits does this SDN technology deliver to AT&T as a business?

Goodell: We are building a very intuitive Web interface that allows customers to take control and make changes themselves. That's an important piece. That's what I consider putting keys in customers' hands.

The power of what we're doing is we're allowing customers -- whether adding endpoints on their network, adding bandwidth to meet their needs or just standing up a new location -- it can happen in seconds in certain cases and days in others.

The benefit is going to be the agility and the flexibility it delivers so customers can take control of their networks.

In the case where self-service implementations take days instead of seconds, are you referring to situations that still involve truck rolls?

Goodell: When we have a new installation and the physical circuit is not yet in place, there are times when inside wiring is required. We are going to have a three- to five-day interval just to allow for that physical wiring at the customer premise to take place. That is an example of days. Now in a non-SDN world, it would take much longer than that.

If a change needs to take place -- let's say you need to dial bandwidth up -- that will be done in matter of seconds using our online Web interface. They can do that themselves.

Does SDN accelerate the standing up of new services where a truck roll has to take place?

Goodell: The actual inside wiring piece is not accelerated. What's different is all the automation of the ordering and provisioning steps that are upstream of that inside wiring. If you do a comparison of how long it takes today, from ordering all the way to the circuit being delivered and provisioned and turned up, there are several steps we've been able to automate. This is the power of a software-centric model. Those ordering and provisioning steps, once automated, eliminate a significant amount of cycle time from the delivery of Ethernet.

So you can roll that truck out faster.

Goodell: Yes, the steps that lead up to the truck roll will happen faster.

What kind of work did you have to do on your back office systems -- BSS and OSS -- to integrate them with SDN?

Goodell: Software-defined networking requires linkage with those OSS and BSS systems. When you start to automate fast, it has to be done with those systems in mind. We have created API interfaces with all of those systems. A lot of the heavy lifting has been and will continue to be integration with those OSS/BSS systems. As you can imagine, the complexity in our environment in that space is not insignificant.

What were the challenges leading up to offering this service in Austin?

Goodell: As I look at what we're doing, how significant it is from a pure technology perspective, there are lots of things we learned. But one of the things people don't talk about that I think is interesting is not the what but the how.

We started development on this at beginning of this year. Through Agile methodology and very high-level collaboration from a large group of organizations across the business, we've been able to deliver extremely rapidly. That's a model that has proven to be very instrumental in our success, and I expect it's going to continue to be instrumental as we expand further with software- defined networking and NFV.

Next Steps

The basics of SDN for service providers

SDN and NFV make service chaining a reality

NFV kicks into gear in the operator network

Dig Deeper on Software-defined networking

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