AT&T open sourced the heart of their network

AT&T Open Sources the secret of its software defined networking transformation.

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Credit: Nick Barber

Last year at the Open Networking Summit, AT&T announced (and released a white paper on) its Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management & Policy (ECOMP). At that time, John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, technology and operations at AT&T, said that if there was enough interest by the networking community, they may open source the project.

Fast forward a year and ECOMP has been open sourced and is now a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project.

“The responses we have received have been overwhelming," Chris Rice, SVP of Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design, AT&T told CIO via email. “We’ve been in discussions with a number of global operators to join the ECOMP ecosystem. Orange and Bell Canada are trialing ECOMP. We’re also seeing very good support from the developer and vendor communities.”

“Opening up ECOMP is a game-changer. It seeks to create a common platform for building communications services within an SDN-based network cloud. The initiative invites a global communications ecosystem to explore, contribute to, test, integrate and deploy the code. By providing a common, open source platform, our goal is to promote a globally-accepted platform for SDN and NFV technologies,” said Rice.

The Linux Foundation will establish a governance and membership structure and perform code scans.

The Linux foundation is already home to many open source networking projects, including OpenDaylight, IO Visor, Open vSwitch and OONFV. The foundation is a natural fit for ECOMP and offers the opportunity for massive collaboration among these complementary projects.

“The launch of this project is one of the most momentous steps forward for Open Source Networking,” said Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of The Linux Foundation. “With over two years of production experience, ECOMP allows users to create new services in an automated manner. We’re pleased to work with members to create a vibrant community to support this project’s success over the long term.”

Big players from the networking space have committed to the project, including Amdocs, AT&T, Bell Canada, Brocade, Ericsson, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Metaswitch and Orange.

What's next?

By releasing ECOMP as an open source project, AT&T has jump-started the ecosystem with a proven, production-ready automation platform for new software-defined networks. It will help in maturing the entire ecosystem, which will not only help other players but also AT&T. “A unified platform takes friction out of the system by simplifying what vendors need to deliver against and making it easier for service providers to on-board different VNFs from different vendors,” said Rice.

In addition, AT&T will now benefit from the work done by the developers who work for its direct competitors. Open source turns competitors into collaborators. “Open source code allows developers to work together, which enables rapid development,” said Rice. “We want the community to use and contribute to the project and drive its evolution. We’re trying to build a robust community for the Linux Foundation project and want as much participation from the industry — developers, service providers and vendors – as possible.”

Rice is hopeful that ECOMP will become an industry-wide platform for software-defined networking.

How much is open sourced?

(Almost) everything.

During his keynote address at last year's Open Networking Summit, Donovan said that there is some secret sauce that AT&T keeps when it open sources technologies. But he said it must be in tiny quantities, like Tabasco sauce, “...powerful, even when small in quantity,” he said.

Rice made it clear that if there is anything that they have not open sourced under ECOMP, it’s very AT&T specific, things like “...models and data for specific VNFs in-use, policies used to run and operate the network, specific data we collect for metrics, algorithms we use to perform analytics, etc,” said Rice.

But service providers could create all of this on their own using what AT&T open sourced.

AT&T will also be releasing information like documentation, educational videos and two sample use cases (1 on virtual firewall and 1 on virtual DNS) through the Linux Foundation.

“Our goal of open sourcing ECOMP is to harmonize the industry, creating a common approach to the entire VNF/SDN lifecycle process within an SDN-based network cloud,” said Rice. “We think that open sourcing within the Linux Foundation gives us the best chance to achieve this.”

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