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OpenDaylight Summit 2016: Keynote Q&A with Chris Rice of AT&T

Chris Rice is Senior Vice President of Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design at AT&T, where he leads the research and advanced development for software-defined networks. He is responsible for delivering the architecture and design of AT&T’s software-centric network. This transformation uses software-defined networking and network function virtualization to deliver products and services to the customer. Chris and AT&T have been involved with OpenDaylight since the beginning and currently use ODL in production.

Chris will deliver a keynote on “The History of SDN Control at AT&T” during the OpenDaylight Summit in Seattle September 27-29. We recently engaged with Chris to get his thoughts on the latest developments and future direction for the community project.

How do you see the shift toward open source in networking impacting the industry? Your business specifically?

There have been four major trends impacting the networking industry, particularly in the NFV/SDN area:

  1. Hardware Improvements – standard server CPUs have improved packet processing performance by 100x in the last 10 years.

  2. Network Architecture Innovations – separation of control plane from the data plane, technologies like IRSCP and the Network Cloud.

  3. Data Growth Trends – Data traffic on AT&T’s wireless network grew more than 150,000% between 2007 and 2015 and dictates the need to change how networks are designed and built.

  4. Open Source – Explosion of open source in the networking area – OpenStack, OpenDaylight, Open Virtual Switch, Open Network Operating System, OPNFV, etc.  AT&T is active in all of these areas.

These trends have affected the entire telecom industry, altering the path forward for everyone.   They open up the possibility for a network cloud, demonstrate the need for faster scaling of networks to meet growth demands, and provide many open source tools upon which to build. 

How have you been leveraging SDN and NFV? What are your primary use cases?

Our business committed to SDN a few years ago. We converted 5.7% of our target network to NFV, managed via SDN, by the end of 2015, and have committed to virtualize and put under SDN control 30% of our network by the end of 2016. We have used it in many areas of our network services (layers 0 – 3, and layers 4-7) within our network infrastructure; in our mobility network; and in totally new and transformational services, like Network on Demand.

Please give us a preview of what you’ll be sharing on-stage at OpenDaylight Summit in September.

I will be speaking about how we use ODL today. ODL offers us a breadth of “brownfield” protocols (protocols that we and other operators have in our networks at very high scale today). We use ODL in Layers 2/3 for service, network, and device models in services like Network on Demand; we also use it in Layers 4-7, allowing us to control devices/virtual devices within the cloud platform (restart, rebuild, scale) in VNF and vendor-agnostic ways. My talk takes a look at the history of SDN control at a major service provider. I will speak to the stages of growth for SDN within AT&T that brought us to our software-centric network build, where we’ve committed to converting 75% of our target network to NFV with SDN by 2020.

Are you collaborating with OPNFV or OpenStack as well? Can you tell us about your participation?

Open source software is a big part of our network transformation. It will speed our innovation, lower costs and help us build the foundation for our 2020 goal. Overall, we’ve doubled our usage of open source software in the last year, going from 5% to 10%, and that number will continue to grow.

In March 2016, we released a whitepaper about a software project called ECOMP, which stands for Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy. ECOMP is the engine that powers our software-centric network. ECOMP is 8.5 million lines of code and one of the most challenging, complex and sophisticated software projects in AT&T’s history. It provides automation of many service delivery, service assurance, performance management, fault management, and SDN tasks. It is designed to work with OpenStack but is extensible to other cloud and compute environments.

In July, we committed to releasing into open source the software platform that powers our software-defined network (SDN), Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP). We made the decision to do this because we want to create a community of contributors to advance the platform. We also think it will mature SDN and become the industry standard. Releasing this software into open source levels the worldwide playing field for everyone. Most importantly, we believe this will rapidly accelerate innovation across the cloud and networking ecosystems.

One of the tenets of the open source community is that you don’t just take code. You contribute it, as well. Here are some of the ways we’re doing that, by working with OpenStack, OpenDaylight, Open Virtual Switch, Open Network Operating System and OPNFV:

  • Recently, AT&T won the OpenStack Superuser Award, which further validates our commitment to open source.

  • As I mentioned, we contribute to ODL and are participating in the OpenDaylight Summit in September.

  • We also helped launch OPNFV within the Linux Foundation and are active contributors. Last year, OPNFV released ARNO, the industry’s first open source platform for NFV. It shows a lot of promise in allowing users to customize their platform to test different virtualized functions.

We believe that by contributing code and building communities around those projects, we enable others to use the software. It also allows some companies to build complete products and services based on that code. In many cases, these are products that would not have been possible without open source contributions. This allows new, lower-cost and disruptive entrants to enter the ecosystem, which is good for AT&T and the broader community. We have a rich history in open source going back to the C, C++ language days. 

In addition to Chris’ keynote, AT&T will be participating in a handful of tracks and sessions during next month’s Summit, including:

  • AT&T and OpenDaylight: A Platform for Programmable Service Logic, presented by Brian Freeman, DMTS at AT&T.

  • Keynote Industry Panel: Doing SDN at Scale. Panelists include Brian Freeman, AT&T; Dorian Kcira, Caltech; Vijoy Pandey, Google; and Nitin Serro, Serro Systems.