Find the Path to Networking Nirvana

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Almost all enterprise-class organizations are sitting atop a pile of existing network infrastructure, dealing with the headaches of a complex hardware lifecycle. Many would like to find a smooth path to a virtual networking future in which hardware is no longer a barrier to change, but instead a gateway to flexible network options. 

Ask enterprise IT decision makers these days to select from a menu of connectivity options and odds are the top choice will be an “All of the above” response. They want bandwidth on demand, a manageable number of connectivity options to suit a distributed workforce, scalability, and the lowest cost. That networking nirvana may not be as far in the future as you once thought.

Businesses are increasingly anxious to be fast on their feet, concerned about disruptive forces in their industries, and eager to move quickly to take advantage of new business opportunities. They don’t want their strategies constrained by existing infrastructure.          

“Enterprises of all sizes expect flexible, secure, and robust VPN connectivity for business applications from anywhere at any time,” writes Courtney Munroe, group vice president of Group Vice of Worldwide Telecommunications Research with market research firm IDC.

As businesses decentralize workforces to be closer to customers or accommodate more flexible work environments, they often are disconnected from corporate resources. “The integration of devices, applications, and services for onsite workers and remote workers within the same VPN network is critical, and user experience and network performance are equally important in both environments,” Munroe asserts.

This is a significant shift that, “is also changing the way IT works, with consumption-based, pay-as-you-go models increasingly popular, enabling businesses to scale resources up and down as demand dictates,” says ComputerWeekly.

Providing services on demand, being able to scale up or down as needs change are essential business requirements that network equipment and service providers are seeking to enable with Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN). These complementary technologies aim to control networks logically, with software, minimizing hands-on deployment and configuration of hardware.

With NFV, virtual network functions (VNFs) such as routing, WAN acceleration, and security can be provisioned through software to industry-standard hardware. One Intel x86-based box might contain one or two such network functions, and the device can be re-provisioned for other network functions as needed.

AT&T provides these modular network functions through its FlexWare offering. AT&T’s software-centric network is powered by its ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management, and Policy) infrastructure delivery platform. Earlier this year, the company announced that ECOMP is transitioning into open source via the Linux Foundation.

“Enterprises often rely on their infrastructure vendors to partner with each other to orchestrate various aspects of the VNF lifecycle in their networks. If the Linux Foundation were to adapt ECOMP for enterprise use, it would give enterprises a vendor neutral, open source framework for NFV enablement,” writes Network Computing.

ECOMP enabled AT&T to achieve aggressive virtualization goals across enterprise, infrastructure, mobility and consumer use cases, according to Chris Rice, senior vice president of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design. The Linux Foundation project aims to deliver the capabilities for the design, creation, orchestration, monitoring, and life-cycle management of VNFs in an SDN environment. The open source movement is expected to build on ECOMP and speed up the pace of replacing complex hardware lifecycles with easier to manage software functions.

Learn more about the path to a virtual networking future at business.att.com.