The First 5%: Launching Our Software-Centric Network Transformation with Virtual Machines

May 12, 2015
By John Donovan

One of the key themes at our Innovation Showcase in New York last week was how we’re transforming our network to be software-centric. It’s a complex process. Some companies are just starting to grapple with how they’ll make this transition. But we’re already seeing the first benefits for our customers.     

Here’s one example. We process 190 billion Domain Name System queries per day. What’s a DNS query? Whenever you type a domain name into your browser – say, att.com – the network has to look up the Internet Protocol address associated with that domain. The IP address is how computers and other network devices on the Internet find each other. It’s like dialing a phone number. Type “144.160.155.43” into the address bar on your browser, for example, and it will take you directly to att.com.

We handle a lot of DNS queries. Those 190 billion queries a day can result in peaks of 3.6 million queries per second. If that service goes down, people notice.

A few weeks ago, we had an outage at one of our DNS facilities in California that handles consumer wireline traffic. This outage could have seriously degraded the online experience for our customers.

But we now do most of our DNS lookups in flexible, automated “virtual machines” running in the cloud. These virtual machines lower costs and improve resiliency by automatically transferring work when needed to other locations. So when that outage occurred, the system automatically redirected incoming queries to another location in California. It ramped up without a hiccup.

Our wireless network is also benefiting from our software transformation. Traditionally, you needed specialized hardware for each function running on the mobile packet core. We’re turning those devices into software, too. We’re now running commercial wireless traffic on these virtual machines. The first batch of traffic is on our Mobile Virtual Network Operator service. We got that up and running in less than half the time our traditional methods would have taken.

 I noted recently on this blog that, by 2020, we plan to virtualize and control over 75 percent of our network using this new software-defined architecture. Our goal this year is to reach 5 percent. Five percent might not sound like a lot, but it’s the critical first step for all the work to come.

And it’s that 5 percent that ensured that our customers last month were able to browse without ever missing a beat.

               

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