OpenStack cloud’s “killer use case”: Telcos and NFV

Open source clouds plus network function virtualization equals Happy Telecos

AUSTIN, Texas – Today, 114 petabytes of data traverse AT&T's network daily, and the carrier predicts a 10x increase in traffic by 2020. 

To help manage this, AT&T is transitioning from purpose-built appliances to white boxes running open source software. And according to AT&T Senior Vice President of Software Development and Engineering Sarabh Saxena, OpenStack has been a key part of this shift.

+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: OpenStack Director: Why open source should be the core of your cloud | Cool products from OpenStack Summit +

At the OpenStack Summit this week in Austin, OpenStack Foundation Executive Director Jonathan Bryce said telecommunication companies powering Network Function Virtualization (NFV) with open source cloud software has been among the fastest growing use cases over the past year. Bryce said during his keynote address that Verizon, Comcast, Ericsson and China Telecom too are using OpenStack at least in part to help deliver next-generation network functionality.

Concurring with Bryce was Sam Cherington, an analyst covering the cloud market: “The killer app right now for OpenStack is the NFV use case.”

AT&T’s OpenStack cloud

AT&T is a long-time OpenStack user and has made a corporate commitment to use the open source cloud software for the basis of its infrastructure moving forward, Saxena says.

The basis for much of the company’s next-generation technology is encapsulated in the AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC), a globally distributed platform that will one day include 1,000 zones around the world, Saxena said. “It’s an OpenStack-enabled cloud,” he noted during the Day One keynote session.

AT&T is automating the rollout of AIC nodes so that they can cut over in a matter of days. The carrier has built an OpenStack Resource Manager (ORM) to control the creation of nodes, connect nodes to the broader network and manage service discovery. ORM also manages network functions and can deploy them to select AIC zones. It can find the zones that are best able to accommodate the specific network function being rolled out. “It’s like an online hotel reservation system,” Saxena said.

The upshot for customers is that the company is able to roll out features much faster than before, Saxena said. Rather than having to install a new router or firewall on premises – a process that could take weeks -- AT&T’s Network on Demand gives customers interfaces to make changes to their network on the fly. NFV has “liberated” network functions from their hardware, allowing them to be spun up as software instantiations anywhere on the network. “We’re putting the keys back in the customers’ hands,” he said.

As the OpenStack Foundation’s Bryce noted, AT&T isn’t alone in virtualizing its network functions on top of an OpenStack cloud. Red Hat Monday announced Verizon as a customer in a deal that the former claimed is the world’s largest OpenStack-based NFV deployment.

“The model (that telecommunications providers) have operated in for the last 30 years will not work for the next 10 years,” Bryce said in an interview after the keynote. “There’s a strong imperative to find an open solution to these issues.”

Eric Hanselman, research director at the 451 Group, said OpenStack clearly is a strong platform for managing virtualized network functions. “There are some shining stars in this,” he said, noting the AT&T and Verizon use cases.

But there’s a broad market, and many telecoms and end users are still using their traditional virtualization management platforms from companies like VMware to manage infrastructure as well, he said.

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