One-Third of AT&T’s Network is Now Virtualized

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More than one-third of AT&T’s customer-facing network is now virtualized, which means the company can provision services for that portion of the network as simply as downloading them from an app store instead of buying and installing hardware appliances.

That’s according to John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer and group president, who reported on progress of the telco’s multi-year network virtualization project while speaking at an industry conference in Las Vegas in December, FierceTelecom reports.

“To hit 34 percent of our network functions in software really bodes well for us for 2017 to get the things done that we want to do,” he said.

The project to virtualize 75 percent of AT&T’s network is now in its third year. The company first announced it in December 2014.

AT&T says the effort is a response to a massive increase in data traffic on its wireless network over the last eight years, driven primarily by video.

It includes implementing both Software-Defined Networking, which enables the telco to automate infrastructure management and service delivery, and Network Function Virtualization, which enables it to replace expensive dedicated hardware appliances for services like firewalls and VPNs with virtual functions that can run on regular servers.

See also: How Enterprise Cloud and Virtual Networking are Changing the Telco Market

The project also includes converting many of AT&T’s central offices to data centers to house the hardware those virtual functions run on. In an earlier interview, the company’s VP of innovation and ecosystems, Igal Elbaz, referred to these telco facilities-turned-data centers as a “distributed cloud.”

Read more: Telco Central Offices Get Second Life as Cloud Data Centers

AT&T isn’t the only telco doing this. Its peers, including Verizon and Japan’s NTT, have been transforming their networks in similar ways to make them more flexible and to be able to provide network services similar to the way companies like Amazon and Microsoft provide cloud infrastructure services.

Needless to say, re-architecting a telco network takes a long time. “Our target for last year was to be at 30 percent, so we hit 34 percent, which we’re really thrilled with,” Fierce Telecom quoted Donovan as saying. “The hardest part of how big-scale projects go is you have a year of planning, a year at 5 percent and a year at 30 percent, and a year that takes you to 50 percent, and then you start to burn down the tail.”

See also: AT&T to Open Source Network Hardware, NFV Software

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