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AT&T Hopes Open Source SDN Platform Will Become 'Industry Standard'

AT&T said it will open source the homegrown software platform powering its software-centric network that leverages software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) in the hope it will mature the fledgling technologies and become an industry standard.

The platform is called the Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP), and it was developed by the communications giant to modernize its network to handle increased traffic emanating from demanding technologies such as autonomous cars, augmented (featured in Pokémon Go) and virtual reality, 4K video, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

"ECOMP lets service providers quickly add features and drive down operations costs," the company said yesterday in a news release announcing its intention to open source the platform's technology. "It gives service providers and businesses anywhere more control of their network services, and enables developers to create new services. Ultimately, consumers benefit because the network better adapts, scales and predicts how to make their connected experiences seamless. That means that all the cool network-enabled technologies coming in the next few years -- from virtual reality to self-driving cars to 4K video -- will run smoothly."

AT&T actually lifted the veil on ECOMP -- almost two years in the making -- in March when it published a whitepaper divulging its inner workings.

At the time, the company said it was amenable to open sourcing the technology behind the platform, which it described as "an infrastructure delivery platform and a scalable, comprehensive network cloud service."

ECOMP Components
[Click on image for larger view.] ECOMP Components (source: AT&T).

"It provides automation of many service delivery, service assurance, performance management, fault management and SDN tasks," the March statement continued. "It is designed to work with OpenStack but is extensible to other cloud and compute environments. ECOMP is the engine that powers our software-centric network."

That amenability was realized into fruition with yesterday's announcement.

"To understand the significance of this move, it's helpful to understand exactly what we mean by a 'software-centric network,'" the company said yesterday. "The old networking industry was fine in a world where data traffic grew gradually and predictably -- think voice and text. We don't live in that world anymore. Smartphones, video and the cloud changed this world. The trends we've seen have been staggering: Data traffic on our wireless network grew more than 150,000 percent between 2007 and 2015. And we don't expect this growth to slow down."

AT&T likened the ongoing networking transformation -- often called a networking disruption in view of its effect on old-guard networking giants that are hurrying to adjust -- to the way smartphone software has supplanted hardware such as cameras, calculators, flashlights, CD or MP3 players and other gadgets. Turning those into software apps is the role played by NFV.

"ECOMP is mature, feature-complete, and tested in real-world deployments," the company said. "And, we believe 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. AT&T is currently working with the Linux Foundation on the structure for this open source initiative."

All the specifics of the open source initiative have yet to be ironed out. Company exec John Donovan said, "This is a big decision and getting it right is crucial. We want to build a community -- where people contribute to the code base and advance the platform. And, we want this to help align the global industry. We've engaged a third-party company to be the integrator and provide support in the industry for the ECOMP platform. And we've received positive feedback from major global telecom companies. We're excited to share more on that front very soon."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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