As we transition to a software-centric network, our goal is to virtualize 75 percent of AT&T’s network by 2020. To do this, we must be nimble and move quickly. We’re also inviting more fellow travelers and  collaborators to make the journey with us.

It’s in this spirit that we’re putting out a call to academia and research institutions to join the first-ever AT&T SDN Network Design Challenge. It’s a contest asking some of the brightest minds in SDN and NFV to provide us their ideas about how to design a better software-controlled network.

The AT&T SDN Network Design Challenge will provide an opportunity to innovate at scale. Participants will get to work with a realistic, carrier-grade network – something the academic community has asked us for. We’ll award a $50,000 prize to the winning submission, plus a summer internship at AT&T Labs for up to two students.

Our goal for this challenge is to improve network routing.

Traffic lights and highway systems manage how you get from home to work. Network routers do the same thing. They help send data from one place to another. Now, imagine that you could perfectly time all of the lights and traffic signals for your trip. Wouldn’t it be faster and more efficient?

We’re looking to do the same thing in our network. But we’re doing it by looking at the benefits of centrally controlled algorithms that maintain the resiliency of distributed algorithms.  

Today’s physical routers are special equipment with specific needs. They require specialized parts to make repairs when they fail. With our network transformation, we are evaluating how to virtualize routing, using software on standard compute equipment. Our objective still remains the same. We want to find the most reliable, most efficient way to manage and send data across the network. Yet there are different strategies and approaches for doing it.

Recently, “flow-based” routing methods have proven successful in datacenters. This success has the industry asking if carrier network providers should use flow-based routing methods too. Through the AT&T SDN Network Design Challenge, we hope to better understand how this method – or others – could help to improve routing and network utilization.

Across AT&T and within Labs, we have a strong culture that encourages openness and collaboration. For instance, we’re actively using and contributing to open source communities. We’ve found this approach helps us make our services that much stronger. It will also help us make a generational leap into the network of the future.

That’s the idea behind the AT&T SDN Network Design Challenge. You can learn more about the contest, read the Official Rules and register to participate* here.

*The AT&T SDN Network Design Challenge is open to United States citizens, permanent residents and foreign students who are 18 years old or older (but 19 in Alabama and Nebraska, and 21 in Mississippi) and who are part-time or full-time faculty members or students at colleges and universities or research institutions in the United States.  The AT&T SDN Network Design Challenge begins on May 15, 2015 and ends on the sooner of November 15, 2015 or AT&T’s receipt of the fiftieth entry.  Void in Puerto Rico, outside of the United States and where prohibited by law.  Citizens of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria are ineligible to participate.

Chris Rice
Chris Rice Senior Vice President – AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design