Cisco locked out of AT&T SDN data center?

Looks like status quo on the vendor side of Domain 2.0 plan -- VMware in the data center, Cisco in the WAN

It could be a very unhappy New Year for Cisco. AT&T issued a Request for Information (RFI) right around the holidays that could have long-term implications for the overall network infrastructure market, and negative ones for Cisco specifically, according to an investment analyst's report.

The AT&T RFI seeks to gather information from vendor suppliers on their plans to embrace software-defined networking and network functions virtualization in their products and product architectures to align with AT&T's Domain 2.0 virtualization strategy. Domain 2.0 is a network virtualization project that looks to embrace commodity, white box hardware and SDN controllers, according to the report from MKM Partners.

The deadline for submission was Dec. 31, 2013, and AT&T will review the plans through the first half of 2014, MKM says. After that, the carrier is expected to issue more specific RFPs.

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MKM believes Domain 2.0 implementations are likely to occur first in AT&T's data center domain, perhaps in 2015. After that, a WAN SDN controller would be deployed in 2016, and then AT&T would converge IP routing and optical transmission deeper into its network, the investment firm predicts.

AT&T's plans for data center network virtualization may not jibe with Cisco's strategy, and vice versa, according to MKM. AT&T is already using VMware's NSX network virtualization platform and vSphere cloud computing system.

But even then, Cisco's Insieme Networks-based Nexus 9000 switching line and Application Centric Infrastructure fabric may be "too complex and proprietary compared to more white box-oriented architectures" AT&T seeks, the firm asserts:

AT&T appears to be especially concerned with competing with Cloud services offering from the likes of Google and Amazon, and is likely to follow some of the virtual networking concepts established in these companies' early SDN/white box deployments.

As a result, the long term implications of AT&T's Domain 2.0 plan are "most negative" for Cisco and "most positive" for Ciena, Finisar, F5 Networks and VMware. MKM notes that Cisco and Juniper both do little if any data center business at AT&T already, save for some network security appliance sales.

The WAN is a different story: both Cisco and Juniper will continue to sell both core and edge routers to AT&T for years to come, MKM forecasts. But that doesn't necessarily give them the upper hand in the carrier's WAN SDN controller project in 2016 - MKM notes that as AT&T converges its routing and optical layers, the SDN control of that infrastructure could fall to an optical vendor like incumbent Ciena, or Infinera.

Which might prompt Cisco or Juniper to acquire Ciena or Infinera, MKM posits.

So it seems like, on the supplier side anyway, status quo for AT&T's Domain 2.0 even though the project itself is anything but.

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