OpenStack kicks off spring summit with 1.0 release of Project Airship, used by AT&T

DENVER—The open source Project Airship, which is operated by the OpenStack Foundation, issued its 1.0 release today. AT&T contributed the seed code for Project Airship about one year ago.

Project Airship is a software deployment tool that automates cloud provisioning. It’s for organizations that want to embrace containers as the new unit of infrastructure delivery at scale.

AT&T uses Airship for its Network Cloud, which powers its 5G packet core. “It’s one tool we’re using in conjunction with OpenStack to orchestrate infrastructure of our Network Cloud,” said Amy Wheelus, AT&T’s VP of Network Cloud, in a conversation with FierceTelecom. “It’s an undercloud platform, a life-cycle management platform.”

Wheelus is speaking this morning at the Open Infrastructure Summit in Denver.

AT&T’s Network Cloud is an evolution of its AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC). AT&T's AIC was originally built with cloud infrastructure software from OpenStack, using virtual machines (VMs) in the data center. AT&T’s Network Cloud is also being built on OpenStack, but it uses containers as opposed to VMs. And those containers are managed by a container management system called Kubernetes.

To be clear, Wheelus said, “The mobility 5G packet core is not containerized. The Network Cloud control plane is containerized.”

RELATED: AT&T taps Mirantis to update its Network Cloud for 5G

At one time, AT&T said more than 100 data centers were comprised its AIC. Asked why the company no longer provides updates on its data center expansions, Wheelus said, “The reason we stopped giving that is because for cloud it’s important to be elastic. When you count data center locations, some are very large with hundreds of thousands of servers, and then I may deploy some cloud instances in a very small location.” AT&T’s Network Cloud is rolled out on a much more modular approach in four-rack increments.

AT&T has been using Airship in its production network since December 2018. 

For its Network Cloud, AT&T deploys commercial-off-the-shelf servers from Dell and HPE, which do the processing. “We have not shifted to white box in our server space yet,” said Wheelus. “It doesn’t mean we won’t.”

AT&T does, however, use white boxes in its Network Cloud for the switching that moves the packets around, into, and out of the cloud. 

RELATED: AT&T's Fuetsch says AT&T now has internet white boxes in production

Wheelus said the company uses OEMs for these white boxes, which helps the carrier to lower costs.

Although AT&T’s radio access network “is still physical and based at the cell site,” she said, “as we move to O-RAN, that would be a candidate for going on our Network Cloud. As you get to a virtualized RAN that can be on the cloud.”

RELATED: O-RAN aims to eliminate vendor lock-in at the radio access network

Airship was initially launched by AT&T, SK Telecom and Intel. Both AT&T and SKT already use the code in production. But the Airship community is hopeful that other operators will join the project. Currently the project has 17 different companies contributing code in addition to about 600 individual contributors. Wheelus hopes other service providers will join the project because it would help to get infrastructure to work together across the industry. “As a service provider I’m not trying to differentiate myself based on my infrastructure,” she said.