AT&T says more vendors are embracing the software-centric network approach

As AT&T continues to ramp up its network virtualization efforts, the service provider is seeing its vendor partners embracing the software-centric model.

Having spent decades developing hardware solutions for their telco customers, including AT&T, traditional vendors have to rethink their product lines with an eye towards software.

Mazin Gilbert, VP of AT&T Labs, told FierceTelecom there are two main camps: One group is making contributions, while the other is still figuring out its strategy.

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“There are two different groups in the community right now,” Gilbert said. “There is the community that already knows what they want to do and are very passionate about making contributions and there’s the other community that’s trying to figure out how this impacts them.”

Regardless of where vendors are in their software-centric cycle, Gilbert said the common requirement from AT&T and other fellow service providers is flexibility.  

“Vendors are starting to understand that AT&T and all carriers want flexibility and we all want the ability to trial new technologies quickly with minimal cost,” Gilbert said.

Being able to drive flexibility is important for AT&T as it virtualizes more of its own network. AT&T raised the bar on its network virtualization efforts, setting a goal to equip 55% of its network with software by the end of 2017.

In 2016, the service provider set a goal to convert 30% of its network to SDN. However, AT&T surpassed that goal and met 34% of its network and is on its way to 75% by 2020.

AT&T and other providers are driving the advent of Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP). The emergence of ONAP came from the Linux Foundation’s merger of AT&T’s ECOMP platform and The Linux Foundation’s Open-O open source networking project.

“One of the big things about ONAP is that it’s a metadata-driven architecture and its model based,” Gilbert said. “It means you have the flexibility to design, substantiate, build and deploy without having to write core code.”

Gilbert added that the vendor community has embraced the virtual networking models touted by ONAP.

“Vendors are trying to understand that and are part of the solution,” Gilbert said. “Everyone understands they are all moving in that direction, and the vendor community is excited about it because they realize that virtualization and automation is how the world is moving.”