With video conferencing, dynamic cloud workloads and unified communications, network traffic is growing at an astonishing rate. Data traffic on the AT&T wireless network grew more than 150,000 per cent between 2007 and 2015 and this is only the beginning.
We expect new applications, like the Internet of Things, 4K video, virtual reality and augmented reality, to push bandwidth demand even higher in coming years.
This explosion of data is already outpacing the capacity of the traditional telecommunications network. For more than a century, telecoms networks have been based on specialized, single-purpose equipment, including routers, switches and other custom-built network devices.
To add capacity, we had to add more equipment. This worked well when the majority of data was voice traffic, which increased gradually and predictably. Today, however, we simply cannot build the physical infrastructure quickly enough. We need a new way to build and manage our data networks.
We found an answer to this challenge in the world of web services, where we use software to provide functionality and scalability on inexpensive and replaceable hardware. Doing this at a network level means replacing the hardware devices on which our network is based with software apps running on commodity servers and other standardized equipment. This top-down approach to network building is what we mean by network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).
NFV and SDN represent a radical change for the industry and it is a huge undertaking for AT&T. We plan to virtualize 75 per cent of our network by 2020, replacing acres of specialist switches, routers and other physical gear. We virtualized more than 5 per cent of our network in 2015. With that foundation, we plan to reach 30 per cent this year.
What will this transition mean for enterprises in Asia Pacific?
- Fast and easy provisioning: When network functions are software-controlled, customers will be able to manage their own services in near-real time. This means you can deploy a new router or firewall, for example, whenever you need it, without waiting and without installing on-site hardware.
- Space and cost savings: With a network based on software rather than physical equipment, customers invest less in hardware and need less space in the server room.
- Improved security: SDN enhances security because it is easier for the network service provider to deploy updates when an attack is detected. It is also possible to isolate and contain problems more easily. In the case of a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, for example, we can scale the network in near real time to avoid major disruption to customer networks.
SDN is coming, whether corporations are ready or not. To prepare for the inevitable transition, enterprises need a clear technology roadmap. Most organizations have a complex and heterogeneous infrastructure with multiple networks from different vendors.
Transitioning such an environment to SDN will mean consolidating resources, moving to IP networks and following a schedule that minimizes disruption to the business. A trusted service provider partner can save time and cost in planning, deploying and managing SDN solutions.
Tom Siracusa is Distinguished Member of Technical Staff (DMTS) at AT&T