AT&T FlexWare Makes Mix-and-Match Networking

Looking to run virtualized network functions in your enterprise? AT&T has them all boxed up and ready to go.

AT&T FlexWare, formerly called AT&T Network Functions on Demand, is now available in 150 countries through the AT&T Network on Demand platform, the company said Monday. In addition to the rebranding and expansion, AT&T is creating another offer in the space.

When AT&T announced Network Functions on Demand, it debuted with a set of customer premises equipment (CPE) that could accommodate up to four virtualized network functions (VNFs). The expanded offer now includes a smaller CPE with up to two VNFs – a different size and price point with the hopes of attracting a broader range of enterprise customers.

AT&T Network Functions on Demand was not a channel product at launch, and there's no word yet on the channel availability of the rebranded AT&T FlexWare.

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"As a network integrator and an AT&T Alliance Partner we are evaluating how we can add value beyond representing the carrier sale, such as managing the platform for the customer especially in the mid-market space," said John Hudson, director of service provider solutions at Lumenate. "Even with all the automation that NFV [network functions virtualization] provides we anticipate the need for care and feeding such as VPN route changes, firewall tweaks associated with a security event or adding an application to the WAN acceleration stack. Pulling reports and making sense out of them for the customer will also be another value add."

Indeed, Hudson notes that AT&T has always seen the channel as being able to provide a level of service beyond what AT&T itself could do. Virtualization does extend AT&T's capabilities – it extends AT&T's network inside the enterprise itself. But it remains to be seen at what level of access AT&T will allow partners to have on its CPE devices and how well it will equip them to provide a kind of network concierge service, where partners handle the entire process of managing the network.

For AT&T, FlexWare is another step forward in its ability to provide value beyond connectivity. "This service addresses the cost and complexity of networking at customer locations," said Roman Pacewicz, senior vice president, offer management and service integration, AT&T Business Solutions.

With FlexWare, there are just a couple of standard hardware configurations available, and the rest is handled by the cloud. "The software the customer chooses is pushed onto those devices, and the provisioning process is dramatically improved,’ Pacewicz said. Even with two VNFs on a single platform, enterprises will be able to avoid the specter of a single function being trapped on a single device – a pattern that, in the past, caused network equipment providers to dictate to their customers how quickly they could improve and evolve their networks.

As part of today's announcement, AT&T is adding Palo Alto Networks' security platform to its VNF catalog. Over time, AT&T will add more VNFs and enterprise customers will have a choice of vendors for each network function, making it easier for them to switch suppliers when they aren't satisfied.

As noted in CRN's earlier coverage, what is now called AT&T FlexWare, is the third service in AT&T's Network on Demand platform. The other two services -- AT&T's Switched Ethernet on Demand and its Managed Internet Service on Demand – were both offered directly at first and, later, they became available through AT&T's Alliance Partners.

The upshot of all of these services is that they give enterprise customers the ability to configure and control network services in a way that wasn't previously possible. "The value proposition for all of these products is flexibility, control, ease of deployment and lower total cost of ownership," Pacewicz says.

Like the web-scale companies they're competing with, service providers are eager to use a single platform for different applications, users and tenants in as many places as they can in their networks. These more software-centric networks, will be able to respond to customer demands for a wider variety of different usage and traffic types, while being able to scale quickly to accommodate a range of network endpoints and devices.