IBM and AT&T Form a Technological Alliance

06-11-2020 |   |  By Sam Brown

Recently, IBM and AT&T have announced their plans to form a digital alliance to help strengthen their technological capabilities and the services they provide to customers. What is the IBM Cloud Satellite, what is software-defined networking, and how will the alliance benefit both sides?

The rising importance of infrastructure

As technology such as IoT and smart systems continues to grow, the importance of the underlying infrastructure has never been more important. Large amounts of data being gathered on the edge is being stored and processed by large scale data centres to improve AI systems, while those same systems are providing software services to millions of customers worldwide. However, if the underlying infrastructure is unable to cope with demand, then the result is the inability for those software services to function correctly. For example, smart assistants such as Google Assistant are heavily reliant on a high-speed internet connection that allows for voice data to be streamed to a remote datacentre, process the request, and then provide feedback. If, however, the quality of the connection between the two is too low, then either request can take far too long to execute, or the request may go unhandled.

What is IBM Cloud Satellite?

IBM Cloud Satellite is a software platform that allows for the deployment of applications on multiple environments, including edge computing and public cloud from a single viewpoint. IBM Cloud Satellite standardises many services including Kubernetes, AI, data gathering, and security, allowing for visibility across all used environments regardless of the end target. The use of IBM Cloud Satellite is especially useful for scenarios where using consists policies (such as SOC 1, GDPR, and PCI) is required, and the ability to keep all systems on a singular platform helps to reduce latency, comply with data residency laws, and improve agility when making changes to any underlying environment. IBM Cloud Satellite also allows the use of additional IBM Cloud services including Red Hat OpenShift, Cloud Pak, and Infrastructure service. 


What is software-defined networking?

Traditional networking systems rely on specially designed hardware to maximise the power of silicon by using custom-developed integrated circuits. While this helps with reducing the cost of such systems as well as making them efficient in design, their hardwired nature means that they are not easy to change or update, if at all. For example, an Ethernet switch from 10 years ago may be able to have a maximum speed of 100mbps, but as Ethernet standards changed to allow for higher speeds, these same switches are stuck at 100mbps and thus have to be replaced. In a small office, the replacement of such hardware incurs little cost, but imagine if a major change needed to be made to 5G, and all the 5G masts have been hardwired? The answer is either a costly upgrade to all infrastructure, or the infrastructure cannot take on the new update.

Software-defined networking shifts networking tasks from hardware into software as well as utilising configurable hardware such as FPGAs. While such technology is far more expensive than its hardware-defined counterpart, the ability to use software to define how the system operates allows for updates as well as upgrades. For example, if a 5G infrastructure is based off software-defined networking and a new update was needed, the 5G infrastructure could be upgraded with new firmware and require no hardware modifications. This not only helps to save large amounts of money, but it also allows sizeable investment into infrastructure as it will last much longer, and newer generations of technology can be brought out without needing large scale changes.  

What will the alliance between AT&T and IBM provide? 

Recognising the importance of IBM Cloud Satellite, IBM has formed an alliance with AT&T that will see both businesses benefit. IBM Cloud Satellite will be offering its cloud platform and related services to AT&T to help modernise AT&Ts internal software applications as well as providing infrastructure so that AT&T can migrate to the IBM Cloud and utilise Red Hat’s open-source platform. The result of this is that AT&T can improve its capabilities and provide better services to its enterprise customers. 

On the flip side, AT&T will become IBMs primary provider for network solutions, including software-defined networking. IBM has heavily invested and researched into 5G, IoT, and edge computing and such sectors require strong infrastructure. The benefits of software-defined networking will allow IBM to make changes and refine their networks to better suite connected devices. Both companies will co-operate on the development of edge computing platforms as well as sensory IoT devices to provide technologies that will help enterprise customers. AT&T also strongly insist on the use of open-source technologies such as Red Hat to provide customers with an easy to use environment. 

"Building on IBM's 20-year relationship with AT&T, today's agreement is another major step forward in delivering flexibility to AT&T Business so it can provide IBM and its customers with innovative services at a faster pace than ever before. We are proud to collaborate with AT&T Business, provide the scale and performance of our global footprint of cloud data centres, and deliver a common environment on which they can build once and deploy in any one of the appropriate footprints to be faster and more agile." - Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President, Cloud and Cognitive Software, IBM.

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By Sam Brown

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