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AT&T plans to accelerate White Box adoption by releasing dNOS into open source

ATT whitebox graphic

© AT&T and TelecomTV

  • Linux Foundation will host AT&T’s network software framework as open source
  • Wants to offer other telcos access to its open, scalable network OS
  • Encouraging a more open and cost-effective alternative to traditional equipment
  • Will benefit existing Linux Foundation projects like FRRouting and OpenSwitch

AT&T has announced  that it will open source its Disaggregated Network Operating System (dNOS) project and that it will soon be hosted by the Linux Foundation. The dNOS project provides a software framework to speed the adoption and use of white boxes in a service provider’s infrastructure. The idea is that telcos, software developers, cloud providers, hardware makers and networking application developers can quickly create new white box infrastructure to meet evolving carrier requirements – and, perhaps just as importantly, do it in a more cost-effective way.

AT&T has been at the forefront of so-called “white box” networking – a recent development that sees telcos take the initiative on their networking requirements, capitalising on the current move to disintermediate hardware from software, as well as the increasing adoption of open source software. It sees the “brandless” white box hardware as “a critical component of our own network”.

However, AT&T argues that hardware is only as useful as the software that runs on it, which is why the industry needs an open and flexible operating system to take full advantage of open platforms. The problem is, historically it has been a challenge to create a network operating system, due to the magnitude and complexity of hardware and software requirements.

The ONAP story

Time to backtrack slightly and look at ONAP – the Open Network Automation Platform. This open platform for the network cloud came about through a merger of AT&T’s ECOMP (enhanced control, orchestration, management and policy) platform and the China-led Open-O (the open orchestrator) project. AT&T has been urging other telcos to continue to adopt ONAP as the standard orchestration platform for software-centric networks. The first software release, Amsterdam, debuted last November.

The ONAP platform is well on its way to being accepted as the global industry platform for SDN and NFV, with members representing nearly 60 per cent of the world’s mobile subscribers. Earlier this month, Verizon joined the ONAP party, whilst oversight of ONAP now forms part of the new Linux Foundation Network Fund (LFN).

However, each individual device in the network still needs its own operating system, which is the rationale behind the dNOS project. AT&T trailed the move late last year with the release of a white paper on the subject. It wants dNOS to be the open operating system for the white box, and in the process help foster an ecosystem of application and hardware options from multiple vendors.

An OS for white boxes

AT&T said this week that the dNOS project will support existing network protocols, as well as offering expansion capabilities to support new tools, like the open source programming language P4. Resources from AT&T Labs and AT&T Vyatta will be key contributors to the project. 

“Our goal with open sourcing the dNOS project is to create a community around an open framework to software-enable industry-standard white box hardware designs, such as those contributed to the Open Compute Project (OCP),” said John Medamana, VP of Packet Optical Network at AT&T. “We’re excited to work with The Linux Foundation to bring this concept to reality. We invite others to join us to build the community and support this effort.”

AT&T says the code and collateral transition will begin soon, with more details at The Linux Foundation’s upcoming Open Networking Summit (ONS) in March – which TelecomTV is pleased to announce that it will be covering with exclusive video interviews and content.

“The Linux Foundation welcomes the dNOS project to the open source community," said Arpit Joshipura, general manager of Networking, The Linux Foundation. "The dNOS project will help create a network operating system community that will benefit existing Linux Foundation projects like FRRouting and OpenSwitch, and pave the way for future projects to help drive innovation at the lower layers of the network stack.”

The network operating system sits at the top of the new-look layer model for telecoms equipment (which starts with merchant silicon at the lowest hardware level and moves up the stack to the OS, control and management software at the top). AT&T believes this top layer is the most important, but until now it has typically been the domain of the OEMs with their proprietary network OS options that connect the layers together.

“There is no doubt about the eventual direction for the industry and the emergence of white box as a major design element in new SDN networks for service providers,” wrote John Medamana and AT&T Labs SVP Chris Rice on a company blog last year. “It signals a new direction and way service providers will design their networks going forward. Just as in the web scale industry, initiated by the need for open interfaces to collect data that drives automation, white box and its new ecosystem are finding a home in the telecom industry. AT&T is looking at options in the industry where community-based work in this area could take place.”

Looks like they found one with dNOS and the Linux Foundation.

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