AT&T Adds Cisco, Brocade, Ciena to SDN, NFV Project

The addition of the three networking tech firms brings to 10 the number of vendors working with AT&T in creating the carrier's new network.

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Cisco Systems, Brocade and Ciena are the latest networking vendors to join AT&T's effort to create the carrier's next-generation cloud-based network that leverages software-defined networking and network-functions virtualization.

AT&T named the new members to its supplier program Dec. 10, adding it to a list that already includes Alcatel-Lucent, Fujitsu, Juniper Networks, Ericsson and Affirmed Networks. Cisco in effect had joined the group in June when it bought network service orchestration vendor Tail-f Systems, which was already part of the Domain 2.0 vendor program.

There are now 10 vendors in the Domain 2.0 program.

The carrier is revamping its entire networking infrastructure to make it more responsive, scalable and agile—and less expensive—by embracing software-defined networking (SDN) and network-functions virtualization (NFV), two relatively new technologies that continues to shake up the networking market.

SDN and NFV take the network control plane and network tasks—such as load balancing, firewalls and intrusion detection—off the underlying hardware and put them into software that can run on lower-cost commodity systems. Networks become easier and faster to program—enabling organizations to more quickly spin out services to meet the quickly changing demands brought on by such trends as mobility, big data and cloud computing.

AT&T officials have said they will save a significant amount in operating and capital expenses, grow revenues and more quickly be able to deliver services and products. At the UBS Annual Global Media and Communication Conference Dec. 9, John Stephens, senior executive vice president and CFO at AT&T, said carrier officials knew what the company expects to save using SDN and NFV, though he refused to give a number. However, he outlined how AT&T would get those savings—including from eliminating hardware and responding more quickly via software.

"If you can take layers of equipment—layers of boxes—out of your network because you are software-controlled … you can save truck rolls, you can save installation, you can save cycle times," Stephens said, according to a transcript on Seeking Alpha. "And by the way, when you say cycle times, you don’t really save any costs, but you generate a lot more revenue because customers don’t have to wait 30 days to get the service, they can get it turned [on] in, say, a day or two."

Ciena's addition to the AT&T program comes a week after the company unveiled the Agility Matrix, a virtual services software platform designed to make it easier for managed service providers to make money by adding and expanding network services and functionalities for appliance via a Web interface and a pay-as-you-go billing model. It also includes an virtual network functions (VNF) marketplace for third-party VNFs, and a management and orchestration engine called Director.

"With Domain 2.0, we are seeking out agile and disruptive suppliers to help us innovate more quickly as we drive forward towards our next-generation network vision," Susan Johnson, senior vice president of AT&T's global supply chain, said in a statement.

AT&T officials announced in September that Austin, Texas, this year would become the first city to see the benefits of the carrier's User Defined Network Cloud initiative.