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AT&T Plans to Convert NFV Software, More to Open Source

By Steve Anderson June 20, 2015

Out at the Open Network Summit, a lot of talk about the future of network functions virtualization (NFV) took place, among plenty of other topics. AT&T was on hand, just one of three major organizations that mounted the stage to talk about the details of various networks. While Google and Microsoft were also on hand to talk network, it was AT&T that delivered some very exciting news about plans to go to open source.

Of course, it's worth noting that the three actually had some key differences in terms of just what the networks were used for. Google and Microsoft, for example, focused on support for online services, as well as for cloud-based applications and infrastructure like Google Cloud Platform and Office 365. But AT&T, meanwhile, puts a lot of its network structure into consumer access, like the rapidly increasing demand for gigabit Internet access. In a bid to keep up with demand that's already on a rapidly upward spiral—the Cisco Visual Networking Index from just a few weeks ago suggested a major spike in data demand afoot—AT&T made what some regarded as an unusual move.

AT&T went from buying strictly off-the-shelf hardware from vendors like Cisco or Ericsson to buying “commodity” hardware, putting a greater focus on the software to help manage the various functions involved. Essentially, AT&T seems to be engaging more in NFV, replacing some major appliances with software running on standard commodity servers. Reports even suggest that AT&T will be working with On.Lab, an open source network research foundation that will bring out the Central Office Re-architected as Datacenter (CORD) system, which is an open-source software item that allows for AT&T's virtual optical line terminal (vOLT) system to operate.

What's more, it's even planning to give back in the form of open source itself. Reports suggest AT&T will be handing over a few of its network hardware specifications to the Open Compute Project. Plus, reports suggest that AT&T will also be open sourcing network software tools that it's developed with the help of the open source community.

This might end up being a very big move for AT&T. If AT&T can use this combination of high-end software and widely-available hardware, it might be able to in turn step up its rollouts in other locations, bringing its high-end GigaPower service, a gigabit home and enterprise Internet service., to more places. The faster AT&T can bring GigaPower out, the more markets that it's likely to ultimately deny Google Fiber, a move that will help keep AT&T sustained into the far-flung future. Google Fiber has been destabilizing markets almost since it walked in the door in Kansas City; Internet service providers (ISPs) have been frantically developing means to compete ever since, and AT&T may well have hit on a real possibility to do just that.

It's going to be a while before the fullest impact of this development is felt, but AT&T may be on to something here, the kind of something that other firms can actually adapt for use as well. The market might well look very different soon, and AT&T may be closer to the lead than anyone saw coming.

 

Contributing Writer

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