One of the most immediate objectives of AT&T’s move towards SDN and virtualization is to expand its network as a service (NWaaS) activities. The more flexible a network is, the more it can be ‘sliced’ into separate virtual sections dedicated to a particular application, enterprise customer or service provider. Capacity in the slices can be dialled up or down as those users need it, and charged on an on-demand basis.
The US carrier has made first steps towards this kind of platform – a pay-as-you-go approach once only envisaged by non-MNOs like Google. It says its SDN-enabled Network On Demand offering, which allows enterprise customers to dial bandwidth up and down as required in real time, has seen the fastest adoption rate ever for an AT&T launch.
In future, it can be expanded to MVNOs and other customers, increasing the revenue streams AT&T can tap and driving direct income from the network’s new flexibility, not just a new approach to internal capacity and resourcing.
This will drive new developments in the conventional networking standards and vendors, such as the 3GPP’s work to create a service-oriented mobile core called Décor (TR 23.707). It will also see enterprise vendors taking key roles in pushing the platform forward.
Cisco is one of those, and its CTO of engineering and chief architect, Dave Ward, says networks on demand are the future of SDN, allowing service providers to order up the networking capacity they need and pay accordingly, just as cloud users currently do for compute and storage resources.
The US company’s main products to support NWaaS are its virtual switch and router, Vector Packet Processor, which it recently placed into open source via a new FD.io community. This provides operators with modular Intel-based hardware capable of supporting 480Gbps throughput in 24 cores (with a further 48 available). “It’s pretty much everything you need to deploy a virtual network and it’s screamingly fast,” Ward told LightReading.
Orange is another operator which has grand designs on NWaaS services for all kinds of customers, from over-the-top giants to specialist IoT and vertical providers to enterprises. Its Business Services division has taken the first steps by trialling an NWaaS offering for small and medium enterprises, which is now going into full deployment by year end. Running under the Easy Connect brand, it uses SDN/NFV to allow customers to set up and manage their own IP-VPN, as well as firewalls, content filtering and other tasks, using a simple self-service portal.
The French firm is using Ciena’s Blue Planet technology for orchestration and virtual network function (VNF) management. It is also harnessing Red Hat’s virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) and Juniper’s Contrail SDN controller. The operator said Contrail was particularly strong in its ability to attach services dynamically to IP-VPNs and support dynamic routing between VPNs.
However, network architect Stephane Litkowski, speaking at the EasyConnect launch last year, highlighted a key challenge – that vendors are not yet charging for VNFs as flexibly as operators want to charge for NWaaS. VNF licensing needs to be far more cost-effective and on-demand to make a convincing business case for the operator, he argued. A similar issue surrounds “server licence stacking”. Many carriers are starting to recognize that SDN is not always a low cost option, as it has sometimes been billed, even though it reduces the expenditure on expensive specialized hardware. But operators need to drive down the sums they are spending on VNF licensing and server hardware and software – options include running more services per server and per VNF, adopting open source technologies, and using containers.
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