What do Mother’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Halloween have in common?

If you ask a network engineer, the answer you’ll get is “they’re predictable.” You always know when they’re coming up on the calendar. And once upon a time, when network traffic was mostly just voice and messaging, you knew those were the dates when your network had to be bulletproof.

People called their moms on Mother’s Day, texted congrats messages on New Year’s Eve, and sent MMS pics of their little ghouls and ghosts on Halloween.

The world isn’t predictable anymore, though. Data and video surge across our network at all hours. And the tide is always rising.

That’s one of the things I talked about in the interview above that I did at the Open Networking Summit in California a few weeks ago. Customer demand is racing ahead of the old models. So the model for how we build our network has to change, as well.

  • In 2005, we were carrying five petabytes a day on our network. In 2014, it was 50 petabytes a day. In a few months, we expect it will be 100 petabytes per day. How much is a petabyte? You’d need about 223,000 DVDs to store one petabyte of data. Now multiply that by 100, and that’s the daily traffic we’ll be carrying soon.
  • Adding more routers and switches and other complex, customized hardware won’t work for much longer. Demand is growing too fast. If we want to ensure our customers continue to have a great experience, we have to do something else.
  • Software is the answer. We’re turning physical appliances into virtual functions. Just like you replaced your portable CD player with a streaming music app on your phone, we’re turning our network gear into software running in the cloud. We can add capacity faster in software than in hardware.
  • This software shift also opens up a huge range of new services and capabilities we can offer to customers. We’ve already talked about some of them, like Network on Demand. As we push towards our goal of virtualizing 75 percent of our network by 2020, we’ll have more to share.

What our customers want from our network and what we can do with our network are changing rapidly. Our software-centric architecture will allow us to respond to trends and needs we can’t even anticipate yet. Everything is changing.

Well, almost everything. You should definitely still call your mom on Mother’s Day.

Andre Fuetsch
Andre Fuetsch President – AT&T Labs and Chief Technology Officer