AT&T to put service setup in enterprise customers' hands

With Network on Demand, customers will be able to start up and modify services directly through an online portal

AT&T says enterprises are about to reap the benefits of the software-defined transformation of its network with faster service setup through an online portal.

On Wednesday, the carrier announced it will commercially roll out the first capabilities of its AT&T Network on Demand platform by the end of the year in Austin, Texas, where the University of Texas has been operating a pilot since June. From there, it will extend the system to more markets and features starting in 2015.

Network on Demand will give companies a portal where they can order and modify services on their own, interacting directly with AT&T's infrastructure.

"We're putting the keys in the customers' hands," said Josh Goodell, AT&T's vice president of Network on Demand, Mobile & Business Solutions.

The idea is to save businesses time and effort and get services to them more quickly, AT&T said. For example, customers could raise or lower the amount of bandwidth they buy in near real time and provision new network ports in days instead of weeks.

Faster and easier service provisioning is a common promise by telecommunications carriers, which have always had an interest in helping enterprises buy services but have not always been able to deliver them right when businesses needed them. That's changing at AT&T as the carrier implements SDN (software-defined networking), which shifts the control of networks from hardware to various layers of software.

Now enterprise customers will be able to make changes, such as dialing their bandwidth up or down, right on the AT&T network instead of calling and waiting for the carrier to take the order and have engineers manually carry it out, Goodell said. The whole process has been taking 90 seconds or less in trials, he said.

Other tasks involving actual hardware may take longer but should still be quicker than before. For example, provisioning new communications ports may take a few days because wires have to be physically connected at the customer site, but the whole process can take weeks or months with the current technology, Goodell said.

Network on Demand is the first service delivered to customers as part of AT&T's UDNC (User Defined Network Cloud) strategy, in which the company is building a new network architecture. Rather than ripping out all its switches and routers, at first the carrier is deploying the new platform by placing SDN technology on top of existing infrastructure. Next year it will start rolling out totally new systems, AT&T infrastructure chief John Donovan said earlier this year.

The changes at AT&T are intended to help the carrier develop its own new service offerings more quickly as well as let customers get them with less delay. The carrier is shifting its IT culture from a slow, traditional telecommunications model to a "devops" approach, popular at startups and Web companies, in which developers of new tools work closely with operations professionals, Donovan said. Ultimately, AT&T is seeking the kind of agility that cloud service providers have now.

To kick off its new network direction, AT&T last year launched what it called the Domain 2.0 initiative, seeking out partners that could offer SDN and NFV (network functions virtualization) technology for the next generation of AT&T infrastructure.

The rollout of Network on Demand will start with Ethernet services in Austin by the end of this year. Next year it will expand to other markets and include other services, including Internet and virtual private networks.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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