Software is beginning to simplify one of the hardest kinds of networking: wide-area networks that link up an enterprise’s remote sites, branch offices, and data centers. Now AT&T is getting in on the game.
On Wednesday, the carrier announced AT&T Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN), a service that will control all of an enterprise’s WAN connections with the same software.
What software-defined networking has done for data centers, SD-WAN does for networks stretched across continents and oceans. As with SDN, the benefits should include lower costs and the ability to support new applications quickly without having to replace complex hardware and services.
SD-WAN can replace specialized hardware at branch offices, retail outlets and other sites with less expensive standard hardware. It also lets enterprises use traditional MPLS (multiprotocol label switching), internet broadband, LTE, and other connections and then mix and match them as needed.
For example, with its SD-WAN service, AT&T could procure two broadband connections for a remote site, even including one from another carrier for redundancy, and combine them to meet spikes in demand. For another site, it could combine an MPLS and a broadband connection.
AT&T is teaming up with an SD-WAN specialist, VeloCloud, for software and hardware to power the service. The Silicon Valley startup makes a hardware device for remote sites, the Velo Edge, and software that runs the network. AT&T said it also plans to work with other SD-WAN technology companies.
Later this year, customers will be able to get started on the service using the Velo Edge at their branch and remote sites. This may be the best fit for companies that have similar needs at all their sites, said Rick Hubbard, senior vice president, network product management in AT&T Business Solutions.
But starting next year, AT&T will put the VeloCloud edge software on its own FlexWare systems (formerly Network Functions on Demand), standard x86 servers for customer sites large and small that can run networking software from different vendors.
AT&T expects most customers to operate hybrid WANs with both MPLS and broadband connections. With the SD-WAN service, the carrier can run these hybrid networks in a unified fashion and make sure the applications that the enterprises need most will get the performance they require.
AT&T has been at the forefront of implementing SDN in its own network and in services for its customers. The company expects one-third of its infrastructure to be software-defined by the end of this year.