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SDN Bandwagon Getting Ready to Move

AT&T’s SDN rollout signals a coming paradigm shift to programmable network management

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That whooshing sound you may not have heard on Sept. 17 was the noise that occurs when an industry goes over a tipping point. On that day, AT&T announced the introduction of “the first software-defined networking solution of its kind in the United States …”

This is part of AT&T’s User Defined Network Cloud service that is designed to cut the time for service provisioning from months to days and provide for self-service provisioning to business customers. Following testing at the University of Texas, Austin, this past summer, AT&T will make its Network on Demand services commercially available in that city by the end of the year and in other areas during 2015.

“What the cloud did for the management of data centers, Network on Demand will do for corporate networks,” AT&T's Roman Pacewicz wrote in a blog. “This is a breakthrough on-demand service that will help companies easily add or change services on their own, in near-real time.”

I, for one, can’t quibble with the breathless tone because to me this does truly represent an industry paradigm shift that enables business users to self-provision services from communications services provider using online portals. 

The company is not only a shaking up how it provides services, but it’s also shaking up its internal organization to match new realities in the marketplace that SDN will spur.  “We’ve obliterated the lines between network and IT,” John Donovan, senior executive vice president of AT&T architecture, technology and operations told The Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal blog

If your business decision-makers have had a hard time getting their minds around the concept of SDN and why your organization needs to invest in it, try telling them it’s going to do for networking equipment and expenses what cloud has done for the rest of the IT infrastructure.

AT&T makes a compelling case for SDN – and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) –  in a Domain 2.0 white paper it published late last year, where it made the case for shifting from a world where single-function networking devices dominate, to a future reality where a programmable common infrastructure makes it possible to reconfigure and reprogram in-place networking devices.

One compelling section: “AT&T services will increasingly become cloud-centric workloads. Starting in data centers (DC) and at the network edges – networking services, capabilities, and business policies will be instantiated as needed over the aforementioned common infrastructure. This will be embodied by orchestrating software instances that can be composed to perform similar tasks at various scale and reliability using techniques typical of cloud software architecture.”

AT&T’s rollout makes it virtually certain that its competitors will follow along quickly. And that, dear reader, encompasses the tipping point, which is certain to make non-telco business enterprises sit up and pay attention. Who better to make the business case for SDN than a bunch of service providers who are able to transform themselves practically overnight to improve services that many businesses are subscribing to? If they can do it, why not our own data centers?

In an unrelated announcement just a few days after AT&T’s, the Brocade Vyatta Controller was introduced, also focused on user-centric networking services. Based on the OpenDaylight Project’s open source initiative, Brocade says this device “provides a simple, low-risk on-ramp to SDN, with a fully tested and commercially supported open source platform that allows users to gradually migrate workloads running on their current equipment into an SDN environment.”

Open platforms, programmable network controllers, self-provisioning! If that doesn’t represent a paradigm shift, you’ll have to educate me on what does.

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