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AT&T’s march toward stat&tandard “white-box” network gear will come to enterprises this week with the introduction of a standard x86 server that can take the place of four specialized network devices.
AT&T is aggressively pursuing SDN and NFV (network functions virtualization), a pair of technologies that are expected to change the face of networking over the next several years. The carrier is on track to have nearly one-third of its own infrastructure virtualized this year. More important for enterprises, it’s offering customers a way to do the same thing at their own locations.
“We’re all in on this,” said Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Business Solutions and AT&T International, in an interview at the AT&T Shape conference in San Francisco. “This is the next big thing in enterprise networking.”
The carrier has already used SDN to give customers easier ways to manage their AT&T services with Network on Demand. The new service, called AT&T Network Functions on Demand, lets them deploy a standard x86 server at each customer site that can act like multiple types of systems. What it does depends on what software the customer requests.
To start with, this so-called uCPE (Universal Customer Premises Equipment) can perform Juniper Networks virtual routing, Cisco Systems virtual routing, Fortinet virtual security and Riverbed virtual WAN optimization.
The carrier will keep adding functions developed in-house and by partners who can add functions through APIs (application programming interfaces). On Thursday, AT&T released its network automation software, called ECOMP, as open source.
Through SDN, AT&T is cutting enterprises’ networking costs and helping them adopt and modify services in as little as 10 minutes, said de la Vega said. Specialized hardware requires higher capital investment and operations costs, plus the expertise to manage a particular type of appliance. Standard servers can change that equation for the customer.

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