AT&T sharpens SD-WAN and FlexWare focus

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ORLANDO, Florida—As AT&T virtualizes more of its network, the service provider is keen on enabling its business customers to take advantage of the cost savings benefits of SD-WAN and FlexWare, two key elements of its intelligent network edge vision.

While the company has not been very public about its SD-WAN plans outside of an announcement last year that VeloCloud was one of its vendor partners, the service provider has already conducted 100,000 deployments.

RELATED: AT&T sees growing demand for Flexware/Ethernet bundle from education, businesses

Josh Goodell, VP intelligent edge for AT&T, told attendees during the MEF17 event that what’s changing about its SD-WAN movement is the software is enabling more flexible environments for business customers.

AT&T Goodell
Josh Goodell

“We have been in the SD-WAN business for a long time,” Goodell said. “We actually have 100,000 deployments under our belt under a static configuration, but this is the first time we have done a dynamic-based architecture.”

A key question that remains is how AT&T will be able to stand out in the increasingly crowded SD-WAN service space.

AT&T says its ability to provide constant uptime will give the company an edge over competing products.

From a policy-based perspective, AT&T’s SD-WAN solution allows the carrier to conduct dynamic application routing.

“SD-WAN is architected using our AT&T integrated cloud infrastructure,” Goodell said. “One of the elements of this that I think is differentiated is it has built-in resiliency, meaning if one gateway goes down it automatically goes to another gateway.”

Coexisting with MPLS

As an incumbent carrier with a large MPLS and legacy TDM data service base, AT&T not surprisingly agrees with other providers that SD-WAN will exist in a hybrid mode.

What this means is that business customers don’t have to strand their existing network investments, and can deploy SD-WAN alongside MPLS.

“The other element of extensibility in this architecture is it really preserves the value of the MPLS network,” Goodell said. “It’s not an either-or type dynamic.”

Customers, particularly those with multiple offices, will be able to make decisions on what they need for each location.

“You got the ability to make site by site decisions,” Goodell said. “You can deploy it at one location or deploy across your network and preserve MPLS features like multicast in this holistic configuration.”

By leveraging the AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) concept, AT&T said it’s on track to make its SD-WAN solution available in 200 countries within the first quarter of 2018.

FlexWare resonates

SD-WAN is only one part of AT&T’s next-generation intelligence edge vision.

In fact, AT&T’s SD-WAN product was built as an extension of its emerging FlexWare platform, which is the outgrowth of its Network Functions on Demand concept.

Goodell said that this allows AT&T to “run SD-WAN not only as a virtual function, but also other virtual functions as well.”

FlexWare allows businesses to set up multiple virtual network functions (VNFs), such as a router and a firewall, on a single FlexWare device and deploy them in different countries.

The service provider’s Flexware product set continues to resonate with customers. To date, the service is available in over 200 countries on Ethernet and TDM-based technologies supplied by either AT&T or one of its network access partners. FlexWare has been deployed in 30 countries.

“It’s a ubiquitous solution across the globe,” Goodell said.

Initially customers opt to use FlexWare for routing, while 50% are adding security and 30% are adding optimization.

Another key element of the FlexWare proposition is flexible management options. Customers can manage the VNFs themselves or have AT&T do it.

“We’ll give customers the ability to manage those VNFs and we have partners that can manage those functions,” Goodell said.

However, Goodell added that most customers would rather have AT&T manage the service and VNF upgrades for them.

“What we have found is that 90% of customers are choosing to have AT&T manage the platform, including VNFs and physical device, which is a good thing,” Goodell said.

Because FlexWare allows the ability to rapidly deploy and scale VNFs, customers can grow into it by adding functions that need over time.

Goodell said that its continued drive to virtualize more of its network has enabled AT&T to rapidly scale VNFs.

“We have been able to increase the pace at which we can add VNFs into the platform,” Goodell said. “In 2018, I expect we’ll be adding 3-4 VNFs every quarter.”