data center

AT&T said yesterday that it has deployed a disaggregated core router in a production environment – an accomplishment the company says is a “first.” Component maker Broadcom will provide silicon supporting the deployment but the other two key vendors that AT&T references in a press release are names unfamiliar to most of us, including UfiSpace and DriveNets. UfiSpace will provide “white box” hardware for the offering, while DriveNets will provide cloud-based routing software.

The disaggregated core router will be deployed along with AT&T’s next-gen long-haul 400G optical transport platform and according to the carrier, the combined technology will provide “the network infrastructure needed to transport the tsunami of demand that will be generated by 5G, fiber-based broadband and entertainment content services in the years ahead.”

Yesterday’s news is the latest example of AT&T’s multi-year initiative to move away from traditional purpose-built networking hardware to a software-based approach that conforms to open standards and works in combination with white box, sometimes termed “generic,” hardware.

The goal is to reduce network operating costs while also adding more flexibility to the network.

As a DriveNets press release notes, “this approach creates a new economic model for the networking industry, lowering cost per bit and improving network profitability.”

AT&T Disaggregated Core Router

A press release from AT&T yesterday quotes remarks made by the company’s CTO of Network Services Andre Fuetsch at an industry event today, who referred to the disaggregated core router as “a next-gen IP/MPLS core routing platform” and who referred to the DriveNets software as a “network operating system.” The DriveNets software connects into AT&T’s centralized SDN (software defined network) controller that optimizes traffic routing across the core.

The UfiSpace white box hardware consists of three components: a 40x100G line card system, 10x400G line card system and a 48x400G fabric system. According to AT&T, “these building blocks can be deployed in various configurations to build routers with capacity anywhere between 4 Tbps to 192 Tbps.”

This news may mark the first deployment of a disaggregated white box core router, but it’s not the first time AT&T has deployed white boxes. In March 2018, the company said it planned to deploy 60,000 white boxes to function as edge routers for its 5G network and the company began deploying those white boxes later that year.

AT&T may be the company that is most vocal about virtualizing its network, but virtually all major carriers are making moves in that direction, particularly those deploying 5G.

Dish, for example, is building a 5G network from scratch and has used it as an opportunity to use a virtualized approach from the get-go, having made several related announcements already.

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