Toward a plug-and-play network


A “Perfect Storm” creates a perfect opportunity to create a new network

The global telecommunications industry is being battered by “a Perfect Storm” of unprecedented stresses. The pace of revenue shortfalls, earnings restatements, aborted capital projects, layoffs, accounting irregularities and bankruptcies seems to accelerate with each month. Underlying trends show a pitiless progression of weakness: average revenue per minute in both business and consumer services—wired and wireless—continues to drop. But while growth in Internet and wireless, the industry’s go-go sectors, is slowing, volume of traffic is still increasing. Carriers are being squeezed by huge operating and capital expenses to handle growing traffic volumes. Overcapacity and excessive debt cloud every carrier’s horizon. Customers, too, are under intensifying pressure to reduce capital and operating expenses—and are accelerating demands that their carriers provide them with innovative network services that are easy to use, and that help them to reach new markets and grow revenues. It seems that “the Perfect Storm” has blown the Information Age off course.

But reports of the telecom industry’s death are greatly exaggerated. Unprecedented pressures create an unprecedented sense of urgency for service providers and equipment vendors to jettison old assumptions and to adopt new business models that put customers first. In fact, opportunities for the industry to meet real customer needs for user-centric services have never been greater. Never before has the telecom sector had such potential to help pull the information-driven economy out of its current rut by providing every customer with unprecedented—and urgently needed—improvements in efficiency, economy, reliability, functionality and service. The stage is set for a new Plug and Play (PnP) Network that enables every enterprise to achieve utmost value from every use of information.

AT&T recognizes that “the Perfect Storm” is creating a perfect opportunity for the confluence of customers’ and carriers’ requirements in the new century. Business users require dramatic cost reduction in their existing information infrastructure, and a clear, confident migration path toward Internet Protocol. They need total reliability, and service level agreements matched to the requirements of their business. They want seamless delivery of high-quality services, and hassle-free maintenance and billing arrangements. They also want compelling applications matched to the objectives of their business plans that help them compete successfully.

Carriers require unit cost reductions that outpace the reductions they are experiencing in average revenue per minute and revenue per bit. They need to maintain value from their embedded base while migrating to a simpler and more efficient infrastructure based on IP, Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MLPS), and optical transport. They need to move away from the commodity transport business, and tap the high-growth potential of IP-enabled voice and data services, as well as an expanded suite of managed services. They also must also expand the reach and power of PnP Networking both globally and locally.

AT&T is charting a true course through “the Perfect Storm.” Its destination is a PnP Network that will leapfrog existing network infrastructures and create new services that are simple to use and that link directly to customers’ bottom lines. AT&T’s initiative will enable enterprises to obtain and use network services as easily and intuitively as they use their muscles and brains. AT&T is committed to working closely with the vendor community to encourage a new standard of excellence in software-based innovation and commitment to quality and reliability of execution.

“The Law of Telecom Complexity”

Today’s networks and network services are far too complex. Operating the jumble of new and legacy systems and elements evokes a new term: the “Law of Telecom Complexity,” which expresses the number of protocol domains, multiplied by the number of networks per domain, multiplied by the average number of inter-network interfaces per network.

The “law” is a succinct expression of the vast number and variety of voice, data and Internet services, transmission and switching systems, transport and processing protocols, network management elements, and hardware and software systems, that reside in today’s networks. Many are legacy systems or elements that have generally outlived their peak usefulness, but cannot be transitioned or eliminated without taking hundreds of thousands of customers off-line. A dramatic approach is needed: a graceful but swift evolution of networking toward revolutionary new capabilities.

AT&T’s vision is to create a new PnP Network. Its foundations are:

An intelligent optical core, providing transport at SONET rates from OC-48 to OC-192.
A Multi-Protocol Label Switching-based backbone, enabling multiple logical networks for every type of service on a single, common network infrastructure.
A new, powerful and intelligent customer interface. Today’s multiple Points of Presence will give way to an intelligent, multi-service “edge,” providing any service over any port (frame relay, ATM, MLPS, Virtual Private Network, Internet and Ethernet capabilities), transparently.
Omnibus, agnostic, hassle-free access, with AT&T providing the right amount of bandwidth to support any customer’s needs without customers having to arrange access themselves through third parties.

Concept of One and Concept of Zero

The philosophical frameworks that is guiding all of AT&T’s people toward the PnP Network are the Concept of One and Concept of Zero, an all-hands effort that has already begun and is accelerating rapidly. These concepts are based on AT&T’s conviction that a simplified, reliable, high- quality network infrastructure and operational platform will create vastly greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Most important: the new network will dramatically improve customers’ satisfaction with their services. AT&T’s focus is on making giant-step improvements in processes, systems and the network itself.

The Concept of One’s rallying point is: Do it once, do it right, and use it everywhere. Concept of One unites the many organizations, systems and platforms that have sprung up to support hundreds of AT&T services under a common architectural approach—and drives it to a single, efficient system.

Progress to date has been strong: by consolidating similar processes and functions across organizations, and right-sizing the organizations with the right people, about half the job on the process side has already been completed. On the systems side, the starting point, which included 77 billing systems and 37 billing streams, have been reduced by 30 percent to date, and additional headway has been made in streamlining provisioning, billing and data base systems. And work has begun on consolidating the network’s various separate transport systems and protocols into a single, IP-based fabric, and in deploying a multi-service-capable edge to serve customers’ needs.

The second phase of AT&T’s network evolution, Concept of Zero, takes the next logical giant step past the consolidation of functions and elimination of duplicative activities that the Concept of One is achieving. In fact, Concept of Zero envisions implementation of powerful innovations that will lead toward the error-free, “hands-free” PnP network. Concept of Zero goes beyond elimination of legacy systems to provide a new and holistic way of looking at networking—not only AT&T’s network, but the entire networking community, starting with business customers and, importantly, including vendors and suppliers, both new and established.

Under Concept of Zero, new processes are being deployed that streamline workflow, automate complex inventories, and implement “e-enabled” self-servicing capabilities for customers and suppliers. The goals of Concept of Zero are zero defects and zero cycle times—achieved through end-to-end automation. Concept of Zero aggressively retires legacy systems and vigorously “scrubs” remaining and new data bases to eliminate the sources of errors that contribute to so many difficulties experienced by both carriers and customers today. And legacy network systems also will be eliminated in Concept of Zero, paving the way toward implementation the hands-free, intelligent, self-healing, PnP Network.

Inside the PnP Network

The Concept of One and Concept of Zero are paving the way toward creating a PnP Network that will be an open platform that business customers can use to “plug and play” any application. The platform will enable businesses to immediately obtain customized, user-friendly applications that add value and provide competitive advantage. Finally, carriers will be able to eliminate obsolete technologies and do business far more efficiently, effectively and profitably.

The basis of the PnP Network is an intelligent optical core, providing transport at SONET rates from OC-48 to OC-192, combined with a MPLS-based backbone, enabling multiple logical networks for every type of service on a single, common network infrastructure. AT&T is extending its core networking expertise into a family of robust, multi-service edge vehicles capable of supporting any and all customer systems and applications. Instead of today’s centralized points of presence, the PnP Network will feature plug-in “blade” edge POPs that will transparently accommodate all of the multiple access and transport technologies and protocols that reach into customers’ premises—dial-up and private line, wired and wireless, cable and DSL, frame relay, Ethernet, etc. The PnP Network’s objectives include support of user-defined open services based on standard protocols; modular operations systems, and network elements with smart interfaces that facilitate feature portability designed to make networking vastly more powerful, functional, reliable and economical.

Today’s predominantly circuit-switched voice network infrastructure is being replaced by an Internet Protocol (IP) fabric. IP has the overarching advantages of providing logical, instead of physical, addressing. IP networking also supports a large variety of devices and terminals, and enables easy communication among them. This year and next, AT&T is rapidly implementing an advanced Voice on IP (VoIP) platform based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) signaling. Use of this powerful industry standard will allow rapid, flexible development and deployment of services businesses want and are willing to pay for, with greater security and interoperability, and with greater integration of converged data and voice applications, than is possible today.

Compelling Applications

The PnP Network is an innovation engine for user-centric services. More than ever, users want on-demand, network-enabled services that provide quality, reliability, security and scalability. They want service level agreements that match the global, 24/7 operations of their enterprises. They demand increasing measures of control, and greater speed and flexibility in delivery, maintenance and billing of new, value-adding applications that can be plugged in and used as simply and efficiently as any household appliance or office machine.

The PnP Network solves real problems that business customers have identified as urgent. All enterprises are looking to their carriers to help manage complexity and enhance productivity in a highly mobile environment. By combining and seamless bridging PSTN and IP networking capabilities, the PnP Network’s IP/SIP platform can provides an exciting and powerful suite of voice and voice/data services to help tie together the dizzying variety of terminals and appliances that each worker uses.

For example, “telephone tag” is one of the largest drains on productivity in many businesses. The PnP Network enables a call in progress to be forwarded and transferred, so that a user leaving the office can continue the conversation on a wireless phone or any other phone. The call is never dropped. With Instant Messaging, the user can be notified at the desktop of calls that are incoming or in progress; and, through Web-based tools, can control and customize all of his or her preferences. When the user needs to swiftly find and contact key people in the organization, the PnP Network provides a Click-2-Dial capability: it automatically displays directory information in Microsoft Outlook, Web-based directories, voice mail or Instant Messaging, and, through a mouse click, allows the user to dial the contact. And, with Unified Messaging capability, the PnP Network permits easy retrieval of all types of voice, e-mail, fax, and instant messaging that were left through multiple interfaces, from any work location, on the road, or at home. The user can retrieve the messages from any location or terminal.

“Work group tag” and “meeting tag” are among the other major productivity-wasters. The PnP Network enables users to create “reach groups”—work group members, clients and customers, suppliers—who need to be notified of, and included in, specific types of calls and information transfers according to common criteria defined by users. Acting as a virtual Automatic Call Distributor, the PnP Network enables reach group members to specify where and when they want to be accessed, as well as backup members of their groups to whom urgent calls can be routed until answered. The PnP Network also helps businesses control, simplify and reduce the endless “grunt work” and frustration encountered in setting up meetings: Web-based tools let users plan and schedule conferences; post or distribute agendas and information to be shared; set up conferencing tools; automatically call conferees, and flexibly customize conference modes (listen only, selective blocking, privacy, etc.). Another PnP Network capability—ePresence—provides desktop-based multimedia conferencing and collaboration via virtual electronic “meeting rooms” that people can have right in their own offices, at any location, that they can enter and leave at will, without elaborate scheduling. It is the network-based, electronic equivalent of the as-needed meetings that close clusters of workers under the same roof form spontaneously when needs arise.

The PnP Network can bring the full power and functionality of an enterprise’s telecom and information resources to teleworkers and other remotely located employees. By leveraging the enterprise’s Virtual Private Network broadband capabilities, home and remote workers get a second phone line that gives them transparent access to the same advanced features and functionalities available to employees at headquarters and large locations, with the same quality and reliability—with vast savings over the off-contract and ad-hoc telecom arrangements that employees typically make on their own. The “eVPN” capability provides the enterprise with a single, simplified platform that is easy to use. It offers advanced, self-servicing capabilities that can be ordered and provisioned immediately; is access-agnostic; provides high security and quality, and yields dramatic reductions in provisioning, service and maintenance costs.

Democratizing Managed Services

The PnP Network also democratizes managed services, formerly the purview of only the largest enterprises. Now, thanks to the creative and innovative efforts of AT&T Laboratories scientists and engineers, managed services are becoming increasingly available to companies across the board.

The heart of AT&T’s managed services strategy is the integrated Global Enterprise Management System (iGEMS), a platform that manages servers, applications, routers, firewalls and other information technology devices and systems used by most companies. iGEMS locates and identifies the devices and applications in a company’s infrastructure; maps their connections and interactions, and manages the entire infrastructure—end to end, on an integrated, unified basis. As a result, iGEMS can identify a potential problem before it affects the network or an application, and proactively recommends corrective action. The customer never sees the problem.

The iGEMS platform enables the PnP Network to deliver a full suite of managed services that most enterprises need today, including data and voice services, enhanced VPN services, infrastructure and applications management, and end-to-end transactions management. Features formerly available only to the largest business–including enterprise networking, high availability and security services, e-infrastructure and hosting, and customer contact and relationship management—are now being drilled down to the growing number of new, nimble companies that do business globally and depend heavily on innovative, capable networking in order to survive and prosper.

A Web portal enables users to monitor the performance of their applications and infrastructure; track the status of orders, and resolve problems. And key suppliers and vendors can be linked in to enhance organizational efficiency. Users obtain greater control over high-volume transaction processing and services delivery; unprecedented access to data that help manage customer interactions more efficiently; predictable performance standards for applications, and real-time monitoring of critical e-business applications with root-cause analysis tools that enhance network performance and maintain uptime.

Leading the industry toward PnP Networking

AT&T believes that the PnP Network, by creating more value from existing and new network infrastructures, will create powerful new revenue streams for carriers—and important opportunities for the vendor community.

The rapid movement to retire legacy systems and build new, IP-based infrastructures requires significant investment by carriers willing to make the commitment to PnP Networking. And, with its open, standards-based architecture, the PnP Network invites and encourages nimble and innovative suppliers to provide value-adding applications at the edges and inside customers’ premises. The need for such applications to literally “plug and play” for carriers and their customers imposes stringent requirements on vendors to deliver robust, easy-to-use systems that achieve the total quality and reliability that enterprises have always regarded as their entitlement from the telecommunications industry.

As the nation’s largest and most trusted networking company, AT&T is taking an industry leadership position to assure that the PnP Network becomes a reality well within the next decade. Consistent with its implementation of Concept of One and Concept of Zero principles, AT&T is no longer investing in stand-alone boxes and closed-ended systems that serve the vendor’s proprietary needs instead of the carrier’s global customer base. Instead, AT&T will support and work closely with innovative vendors that share AT&T’s end-to-end vision and are capable of creating best-in-class, software-based innovations that mirror and support AT&T’s commitment to PnP Networking.

AT&T has a vital interest in supporting start-ups and smaller vendors that have been battered by the current economic downturn, but that have the capability to dramatically enhance networking as an engine for value-creation in the years ahead. At the same time, AT&T wants to continue its relationships with larger, established vendors who bring stability, reliability and proven track records. With the PnP Network establishing a new, open, standards-based paradigm for global information networking, a new industry partnership can be created that centers on achieving the vision put forward by AT&T—and that will lead to a new and brighter future for information networking in the new century.