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AT&T likes 'white-box' networks and hopes you will, too

AT&T likes 'white-box' networks and hopes you will, too

AT&T's Network Functions on Demand offers a standard x86 server for routing, security and other functions

AT&T’s march toward standard “white-box” network gear will come to enterprises this week with the introduction of a standard x86 server that can take the place of four specialized network devices.

AT&T is aggressively pursuing SDN and NFV (network functions virtualization), a pair of technologies that are expected to change the face of networking over the next several years. The carrier is on track to have nearly one-third of its own infrastructure virtualized this year. More important for enterprises, it’s offering customers a way to do the same thing at their own locations.

“We’re all in on this,” said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Business Solutions and AT&T International, in an interview at the AT&T Shape conference in San Francisco. “This is the next big thing in enterprise networking.”

The carrier has already used SDN to give customers easier ways to manage their AT&T services with Network on Demand. The new service, called AT&T Network Functions on Demand, lets them deploy a standard x86 server at each customer site that can act like multiple types of systems. What it does depends on what software the customer requests.

To start with, this so-called uCPE (Universal Customer Premises Equipment) can perform Juniper Networks virtual routing, Cisco Systems virtual routing, Fortinet virtual security and Riverbed virtual WAN optimization.

The carrier will keep adding functions developed in-house and by partners who can add functions through APIs (application programming interfaces). On Thursday, AT&T released its network automation software, called ECOMP, as open source.

Through SDN, AT&T is cutting enterprises’ networking costs and helping them adopt and modify services in as little as 10 minutes, said de la Vega said. Specialized hardware requires higher capital investment and operations costs, plus the expertise to manage a particular type of appliance. Standard servers can change that equation for the customer.

At the same time, AT&T is slashing costs and improving agility in its own house. The fact that Network Functions on Demand is being released in 76 countries and territories at once is evidence of what SDN and NFV are doing for AT&T, he said.

“We’ve never deployed a service in 76 countries at the same time,” de la Vega said.

Those countries will include Australia, the U.S., the U.K, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Brazil.

At the Shape conference, held at AT&T Park, AT&T hosted IoT demonstrations and a hackathon for developers.

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