The Rise of a New Domain in Network Cloud Technology

  • AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud puts customers at the center of the network.
  • Network planning, management, and scalability is much easier.
  • It enables a nimble business model optimized for the future.

Enterprise IT is currently moving through an accelerated pace of innovation that is driving more change today than during any time in recent memory. Whether it involves managing virtual machines at scale or a total reinvention of how applications are deployed and managed in the cloud, all these innovations have one thing in common: they require access to robust networking services to actually work.

With that issue in mind, we at AT&T set about rethinking the role of the network in the modern enterprise.

Thanks to the rise of mobile computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), there are more endpoints trying to access backend IT services than ever before.

The challenge we all face is that it’s nearly impossible to predict when these devices are going to consume what level of network resources. Any number of events can lead to a sudden spike in demand for bandwidth that needs to be made instantly available.

Introducing the User-Defined Network Cloud

To enable that level of flexibility and up-time, we have developed a network of the future called the User-Defined Network Cloud. Built on top of the AT&T Domain 2.0 architecture, AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud puts customers at the center of the network using a modern, cloud-based architecture that operates on a global scale. This capability builds on AT&T’s best-in-class network in a way that significantly reduces the time required to bring technologically-advanced products and services to market.

The AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud enables AT&T network services and infrastructure to be accessed, provisioned and orchestrated much like any other cloud service. Defined by a rich set of open APIs that manage, manipulate, and consume services in near real time, the goal is nothing less than to instantiate network services as much as possible on a common set of commodity infrastructure.

This new set of cloud network services transforms the AT&T network into a multi-service, multi-tenant platform that provides the level of IT agility customers now require.

The NFV Infrastructure Delivers Control

Enabling us to deliver this unique capability is a major shift toward a new substrate of networking known as Network Function Virtualization (NFV) infrastructure. Capable of being invoked and managed using software-defined networking (SDN) protocols, NFV software replaces many of the appliances that make up a network today with applications running on commodity hardware that will give customers direct control of a broad variety of AT&T network functions and services.

The AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud consists of two primary substrates: the commodity servers needed to run the NFV software, and the packet-forwarding capabilities running primarily on merchant silicon rather than proprietary ASICs. Naturally, we may still elect to deploy specialized network technologies when general-purpose processors or merchant silicon are deemed inappropriate for a task. But, by and large, our aim is to significantly reduce the cost of network services by making use of commodity infrastructure whenever and wherever possible.

Simplicity Through Cloud-Centric Workloads

With the rise of NFV software, AT&T network services will increasingly become cloud-centric workloads. In an AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud, a router is composed of NFV software modules, merchant silicon and associated controllers. The software is written in such a way that incremental resources are consumed elastically from a common pool when needed. Different locations are provisioned with appropriate amounts of network substrate, and all the routers, switches, edge caches and middle-boxes are instantiated from the common resource pool.

Such sharing of infrastructure makes network capacity planning easier to manage. At the same time, orchestration software makes managing the overall networking environment much simpler than it has ever been before. In contrast, with an edge router, functions are pre-integrated into a single device. This, of course, makes it difficult to scale the networking environment on demand

At this point, the AT&T User-Defined Network Cloud is not a completed architecture nor technology plan. But it does set our collective direction.

In summary, our plan is to give customers nothing less than full access to NFV software running on our network via open APIs. This will reduce networking complexity and enable more nimble business models specifically optimized to meet a wide variety of rapidly evolving customer requirements for decades to come.

Tom Siracusa Distinguished Member of Technical Staff AT&T About Tom