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​OpenStack: The telecoms' cloud of choice

OpenStack started as an infrastructure-as-a-service cloud, but telecoms such as AT&T and Verizon are turning it into their service foundation.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

AUSTIN, TX -- Six years ago, at the first OpenStack Summit, OpenStack started as an open-source infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud. It still is that, but telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon are moving not just their infrastructure but also their networks to OpenStack.

ATT OpenStack

To handle tomorrow's network data load, AT&T is turning to OpenStack and software-defined networking.

The OpenStack Foundation

Today, 68 percent of OpenStack users are in IT while only 14 percent are working for telecommunications providers. But, according to Jonathan Bryce, the OpenStack Foundation's executive director, telecom and its close cousin network function virtualization (NFV) are OpenStack's fastest-growing market segments.

The reason for this is simple: Old school data and telecom center methods simply can't keep up with our raging hunger for 4G, nevermind the burdens of handling 5G data.

How heavy a networking load is it? Sorabh Saxena, AT&T's senior vice president for Software Development & Engineering, said, "AT&T is already handling 114 petabytes a day of data".

It's only going to get worse, much worse. Saxena said that "AT&T's network traffic is expected to jump tenfold through 2020".

To handle this, AT&T plans to move 75 percent of its network infrastructure to the cloud while making greater use of software-defined networking (SDN) with OpenDaylight and Open vSwitch. To do this, Saxena said AT&T's cloud already includes 10 OpenStack projects with three more planned by the end of the year. The telecom giant's goal is to reduce deployment times for cloud "zones" from months to days.

Besides saving time for AT&T, the carrier is also using OpenStack tools to develop an end-user "resource manager". This will enable AT&T customers to manage their SDNs on the fly. The self-service capability with a "local control plane" will give users what Saxena described as "network on demand" or "giving the customers the keys". So, say for example you need more bandwidth or a firewall, with this interface to AT&T's OpenStack cloud you can simply click up more switches or firewalls in seconds.

AT&T isn't the only company using OpenStack to speed up its telecom services. Verizon announced at the summit that it has released the industry's largest known NFV OpenStack cloud deployment across five of its US datacenters.

Currently the NFV services are used only within Verizon's networks, but it will be adopted in edge network sites by the end of the year.

Verizon's making this move, said Adam Koeppe, Verizon's VP of technology, because "new and emerging applications are highlighting the need for collaborative research and development in technologies like NFV. We consider this achievement to be foundational for building the Verizon cloud that serves our customers' needs anywhere, anytime, any app."

To build this NFV system, Verizon worked with Big Switch Networks, Dell, and Red Hat. It was quite an accomplishment. They went from concept design to deployment of more than 50 racks in five production datacenters in less than nine months.

The project is based on OpenStack with Red Hat Ceph Storage and a spine-leaf fabric for each pod controlled through a Neutron plugin to Red Hat OpenStack Platform. The multi-vendor deployment leverages Big Switch for SDN controller software managing Dell switches, which are orchestrated by Red Hat OpenStack Platform.

During a press conference after the OpenStack Summit keynotes, an analyst, who must have been asleep, asked where OpenStack was actually being deployed. The answer is clear: In telecommunications. Within a year, all AT&T and Verizon data users will have their traffic moving through OpenStack-networked clouds.

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