"It's very extensive technology developed over time," Croak said. "It used to take us months and years sometimes to deploy new services because of their complexity. So we're decomposing all that complexity and putting it in a virtual state so it becomes functions that people can easily put together using tools that we've developed."
AT&T has established a six-year plan to overhaul its network and associated hardware.
"One of the things that we'll be doing is having a programmable controller. With that controller if you're running an application and see it's a big hit and you suddenly need additional capacity, you'll be able to spin off a virtual machine and replicate those service functions very quickly, in a matter of minutes," Croak said.
AT&T is also moving from proprietary hardware and software to industry-standard hardware on which open-source software can be easily deployed. The controller will sit at the network layer.
"Right now it can take us anywhere from 12 to 18 months — depending on the complexity of the application — to deploy capacity. In this new model where you have a programmable controller, you can spin off new capacity within minutes," Croak said.
In some ways, AT&T's SDN approach resembles data centers using a cloud model to centralize applications over distributed computing environments. But faster response time matters with network-hosted applications and services, Croak said.
"We're working with the open-source community to help them understand there are different requirements that need to be embedded ... to take care of sensitivities related to real-time applications. I think they are getting it," Croak said.
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