The value of open networks in the age of the cloud

  • VNFs and application programming interfaces (API) are revamping network services.
  • The AT&T User Defined Network Cloud supports innovation and agile development.

AT&T and its partners are building an open ecosystem based on software components: Virtual network functions (VNFs) and application programming interfaces (APIs) will forever transform how network services are built, deployed, and consumed. Under a new AT&T User Defined Network Cloud architecture, VNF components will be able to request and reserve bandwidth as needed using software-defined networking (SDN) controllers. Those VNF software components will be made available and accessed through APIs and other event types presented through catalogs and repositories.

Third-party vendors are free to implement novel VNFs as they desire, confident in the knowledge that their creations will plug into — and be instantly usable by — an operator ecosystem. Indeed, this concept is specifically intended to encourage third parties to deploy functions that enable new business models on top of the User Defined Network Cloud platform. AT&T expects to leverage VNFs and open APIs to deliver three classes of networking services:

  • LAN: where something needs to communicate with other components using local networking only.
  • Network specific access: where something needs to communicate with a server or service in a remote cloud.
  • General access: where a component may need to consume or provide service to a broader set of peers, such as what might typically be found in a home automation scenario.

Customers can steer traffic and provide load balancing, fault steering, dynamic topology, and capacity capabilities as needed. Via open APIs, organizations can dynamically shape their networks and traffic loads to effectively deal with demand, outages, and attacks. All of these capabilities can be delivered via self-service portals or as a managed service using model-driven tools that provide access to not only the functional components, but also all of the components they have a relationship with. As they are instantiated, components declare themselves to be in a standard part of the functional hierarchy. Each component declares and exposes properties and standard APIs. Some components in the functional hierarchy will even automatically morph and change as they are plugged in and come online or offline. Orchestration software will provide real-time “plug and play” availability of services that can be managed via policies, while analytics applications leverage big data technologies to real-time and offline analysis of traffic flows and patterns. Supporting innovation and agile development AT&T will expose key software resources in a way that allows them to be openly used and to ensure they can’t be lost through the acquisition or insolvency of the organization that created them. For example, not all small businesses make it in the long run, but they regularly demonstrate innovation and agile development. Doing business better with smaller companies demonstrating creative strategic thinking is a key piece of AT&T User Defined Network Cloud. In fact, the framework that enables the vision described here is built using open source technologies and an open information model that confers no special advantage to any supplier or participant. At its core, AT&TUser Defined Network Cloud is a software framework. The APIs that AT&T will expose to others are the same it uses to develop services itself. The goal at AT&T is to create an open framework consisting of a set of APIs and event standards that ensure plug-and-play linkage between VNF components, regardless of who creates them. As part of that commitment, all VNF components must conform to these standards now and into the future to run on the AT&T User Defined Network Cloud network.

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