AT&T praises Intel’s role in network virtualization & 5G readiness

AT&T describes its relationship with Intel as “a push-pull strategy” as the huge U.S. telco invests in virtualization and upgrading to a 5G network with the aid of Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors.

“Without some of those advantages [from the new Xeon Scalable processors] and capabilities that have been created in the software space, we wouldn’t be able to do it,” said AT&T’s Chris W. Rice, SVP of AT&T Labs and Domain 2.0 architecture. “It is a key underpinning in our SDN-network virtualization journey. Intel pushed the technology into the ecosystem, the capabilities and the chips, and then we can pull it through the ecosystem.” Rice added.

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Author Notes:

1.  AT&T buys Compute Servers which contain Intel Xeon processors:

It’s important to recognize that AT&T does NOT buy processor chips from Intel or any other semiconductor company.  It buys compute servers which contain Intel Xeon processors.  While the compute server vendor(s) have not been disclosed, it’s likely one or more Chinese or Taiwanese ODMs.

According to IDC, X86 machines dominated the compute server market in 2016.  Servers using mostly Xeon processors accounted for $11.2 billion in sales, down 3.1 percent. Server machines using other processor architectures, including Itanium, Power, Sparc, ARM, and a smattering of others, drove $1.3 billion in revenues, but fell 30 percent year on year.  Intel X86 compute hardware had a 99.2 percent shipment share and an 89.6 percent revenue share, said IDC in a research report.

An article summarizing IDC and Gartner Group reports on 1Q2017 compute server shipments is here.  The rise of ODMs is described in this blog post.

In January 2016, AT&T joined the Open Compute Project which is specifying open source hardware (e.g. compute servers and Ethernet switches) for use in data centers. AT&T has repeatedly stated it wants to make its Central Offices look like cloud resident data centers.

2.  AT&T’s Cloud & Virtualization Platforms:

The AT&T Integrated Cloud (AIC) is a data center design that includes top-of-rack switches, storage, servers, and software at the hypervisor. When complete, AIC will encompass more than 1,000 zones distributed around the globe.  AIC is based on the open source  OpenStack cloud management framework.

AT&T’s Universal CPE (uCPE) is the hardware foundation of its Network Functions on Demand service. It’s an AT&T-branded Intel x86 server (presumably made by a Chinese ODM) that sits at the enterprise premises and can mix and match software-based VNFs, depending on what functions are needed at each location. The uCPE was designed and manufactured to AT&T’s specifications to enable customers to run multiple VNFs on one device.

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According to SDx Central, AT&T has deployed two workloads on Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors and says others are in the queue. The two workloads are AT&T’s virtual Content Distribution Network (vCDN) and its virtual VPN Internet Gateway (vVIG).

vVIG is a virtual machine that acts as an IPSec gateway between unsecure and secure networks, providing data security at the IP packet level. It uses Intel’s Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) to speed up the cryptographic processing of IPSec data packets.

Using the new Intel processors allows the vVIG to support a larger data throughput for less cost and a smaller footprint. This includes up to 30 percent performance improvement in PPS handling compared to the earlier Intel processor.

AT&T’s vCDN (virtual Content Distribution Network) is a service that allows customers to manage and distribute video and multi-media web content across networks.

“We saw 25 to 30 percent performance improvements from moving it (vCDN) to Purley,” Rice said, referring to the Intel processors’ code-name. “It was a pretty seamless transition, moving it from the older Intel CPUs onto the new one. We are able to do more with fewer processors, and we’re able to get more capabilities out of our CDN and grow it horizontally as well.

“And all of the improvements, whether on the process side or the architecture side, they all have some networking improvement piece as well,” Rice added.

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Conclusions:

These performance improvements are helping AT&T move closer toward its goal of virtualizing 75 percent of its network by 2020. During its second-quarter earnings call last month, AT&T CFO John Stephens told investors that the company has virtualized more than 40 percent of its network functions. It’s making progress toward its network functions virtualization goal of 55 percent by year-end.

“We want to make sure the whole ecosystem moved with us toward network virtualization,” Rice said. “We didn’t want to have something special just for AT&T. We wanted it to be for the whole industry.”

Additionally, achieving network performance improvements requires automation, Rice said. “You’ll never get to those percentages without automation being a key part, he added.

In an earlier interview with UBB2020, Rice said:

“As we move down an automation path, as we move down a machine-learning path to drive more automation, [having open interfaces on network elements] is really a necessary first step — these open interfaces that cannot be skipped over or overlooked. I don’t know that people understand the significance of that.”

References:

https://www.sdxcentral.com/articles/news/att-intel-push-pull-strategy-nfv/2017/08/?c_action=home_slider

https://newsroom.intel.com/news/att-accelerates-network-transformation-path-5g-intel-xeon-scalable-processors/

http://www.about.att.com/innovationblog/7_1_milestone

http://about.att.com/innovationblog/author/chrisrice

 

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