AT&T doubled source software implementations by 10 percent in 2015

BARCELONA, Spain -- AT&T (NYSE: T) continues to make progress with its virtualization initiatives, particularly those related to the implementing open source software, says a high ranking company executive.

Speaking to attendees at an Monday afternoon panel during the Mobile World Congress trade show here, John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president for AT&T, confirmed that not only did the carrier double the amount of open source software it used in 2015, but it's on track to have 50 percent by the year 2020.

"In 2015, we doubled the amount of open source we use and it went from 5 percent to 10 percent," Donovan said. "Our stated goal is to get to 50 percent of software we use via open source by 2020."

One of the key questions for AT&T and others making a large bet on software-based cloud architectures and open source is security.

Donovan acknowledged that while security is a key consideration in going to the cloud, it is more secure than not having a cloud strategy at all.

"Security is a consideration, but inherently going to the cloud is more secure architecturally than not going to the cloud," Donovan said. "I don't think that when you have the numbers of people that you have in a properly contributed open source environment, my view is you're less likely to have that problem."

The concept of open source software may be new, but the fundamental concept has always existed for decades in a different form.

For those who spent time building network appliances, Donovan said that the notion of open source was implemented by service providers' adoption of standards.

"That software project has just changed in that a lot of those open source components are going to be out in the open air and then what we're really dealing with is really how do we deal with the distribution and big parts of that are security and how do interfaces work?" Donovan said. "I would say that this year's security questions are last year's performance questions, and next year it will be how we deal with this particular issue that doesn't get the scale that we thought we were going to get from bare metal hardware, but the beauty of this is that the evolution of the questions are getting better."

Donovan added that in order to ensure a secure environment for the cloud, service providers and vendor partners need to use different methods.

"The rule of thumb is do not use traditional security approaches in a new environment," Donovan said. "Provide security from the cloud for the cloud and that's how I would think about it to get the architecture correct."

At the heart of AT&T's transition to a software-based provider is its implementation of SDN and NFV. During the last year, the provider has been actively implementing new services like network on demand and NetBond, which lets customers choose their own cloud service that runs over a private AT&T connection.

Being an incumbent telco, the service provider has to continue running its legacy service lines while continuing to migrate new and existing customers to next-gen IP and cloud-based services.

Instead of creating separate silos accommodating the legacy and IP domains, the service provider is training its workforce to oversee both sets of services.

"When you think about an organization like ours, we had a big debate on whether you build two organizations -- one for the new and one for the old," Donovan said. "We made a deliberate decision to have people manage both environments so the incentive was to move from legacy very rapidly into hybrid and into the new environment."

One area where AT&T is deepening the implementation of open source software is in the enterprise market it serves.

The service provider announced on Monday that it would invest nearly $10 billion in its networks to put its cloud storage and security services into the hands of more of its enterprise customers, for example.

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