It is 20 months since AT&T announced that it planned to deploy a white box router on every cell site (about 60,000 over several years) and to open source the network operating system they will run, DANOS (disaggregated network operating system). Things have gone rather quiet about this ambitious plan to drive openness and low cost into AT&T’s network edge, while also stimulating a broad open ecosystem for white box routers in general (the telco has also contributed its router specs to the Open Compute Project).
Now the operator has announced that it will donate DANOS – which it developed itself,
based on its acquisition of Vyatta from Brocade – to the Linux Foundation on November 15, a year later than originally intended. The Foundation will use the code as a starting point for its own distributed NOS for white box hardware, with other community members contributing their own enhancements.
AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch said that the telco aims to drive openness and disaggregation into every part of the network, from switching and routing to the RAN. “We have actually open sourced our routing stack that’s going into our cell site routers,” he said at the Mobile World Congress Los Angeles event last week. “This is basically the routing infrastructure that we need for 5G that will be at the base of all of our cell sites.” In other words, that will bring the economics of white boxes – commoditized, open hardware on which virtualized functions can run – right to the RAN site.
“As important as the hardware is, the software is the future of our network,” Fuetsch said during that announcement. “We need an open and collaborative model. On these white box machines we are going to be running DANOS. We think DANOS is going to be revolutionary for service providers at all scales to adopt.”
The open sourcecode will be slightly different from AT&T’s own implementation of DANOS/Vyatta, said Arpit Joshipura, general manager for networking, edge and IoT at the Linux Foundation. Some proprietary elements will have been removed.
AT&T has also signed an agreement with IP Infusion to act as a value added integrator for its own DANOS/Vyatta version. IP Infusion will have exclusive rights to sell and support that software as a commercial product, especially for operators lacking the necessary expertise inhouse. This is a pattern that has been seen in other technologies which AT&T has placed into open source – for instance, Amdocs co-developed the ONAP (Open Network Automation Protocol) orchestrator and has rights to integrate it for other operators. Such relationships help to encourage adoption by making it easier for smaller telcos without large inhouse IT resources.
White boxes are also going into other parts of the AT&T network, including on top of rack switches. “We’re now using those in the distributed core that we’re now building for our network cloud, which will basically become 5G as it gets rolled out from the core,” Fuetsch said last year. “As you can see, all of these implementations are beginning to take root on all of our locations big and small.”
The various technologies which AT&T has developed and open sourced are starting to come together now in a common framework – one which other operators could emulate if they adopt the same pieces. For instance, AT&T is using ONAP to orchestrate all its white boxes, and Orange and Bell Canada are among the other telcos which are piloting combinations of ONAP for management and orchestration (MANO) with specifications such as DANOS and Open RAN (another AT&T-initiated project).
“We’re seeing some significant returns from that from the large ecosystem that has evolved around ONAP,” added Fuetsch. “We’re hoping do similar thing here with these projects we have at ONF.” This is not confined to the US either – AT&T has already deployed white boxes in Toronto, Singapore and Amsterdam, and plans to expand that to over 70 global locations, with the white box routers supporting Internet and other global services.
Now that AT&T has submitted its white box router specs to the OCP, any supplier wanting to be part of its cells site gateway roll-out will have to conform to those specs. That will enable AT&T to source boxes from multiple suppliers, choosing the cheapest or most innovative, while ensuring interoperability.
If the design is taken up by other OCP members, the scale of the ecosystem, and the consequent price competition, could be very significant, taking cellular networks closer to the open, competitive base of suppliers in WiFi networks, in which vendors compete on quality, performance and cost, not with lock-ins to proprietary systems. The WiFi industry makes heavy use of reference designs, which reduce time to market for smaller vendors, and this is the approach of OCP and TIP too.