Elevating DevOps and Enabling 5G with Airship

By Amy Wheelus on 29/04/2019

Two years ago, AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan threw down the gauntlet to his Technology and Operations team – we were going to be first to launch mobile, standards-based 5G in 2018. Never mind that the standards for 5G weren’t even available yet. The team was up for the challenge and went to work. But it meant the infrastructure would have to be built in parallel with the network and radio functions. No silos. No walls. Many teams moving together with a single purpose. It was the only way to make our goal.

We gathered in Redmond, WA in early 2018 to develop the action plan for the 5G Packet Core. To move at the speed that was required, the team decided our priorities would be security, simplification and automation. And a DevOps approach – with the operations teams working hand in hand with the development team during the design and development of the solution – was the only way we could move fast enough.

The cloud architecture and development teams had already been incubating an open source 1st platform to enable a simplified network cloud that could be deployed faster and at a lower unit cost, while being more predictable for operations and for the tenants. They proposed this solution to the 5G Packet Core team, who were in complete alignment with the primary principles. Other leaders from the operations side of the business joined the leadership team. Together, this group of technical leaders worked with their teams to develop a multi-phased approach to delivering the 5G Packet Core on our new Network Cloud at record velocity.

In July, we took this collaboration between operations and development further and made it formal by creating the Network Cloud and Infrastructure organization, which for the first time put both organizations reporting to the same AT&T executive.

One of the biggest innovations in the new Network Cloud was an under-cloud platform called Airship. Airship is a collection of loosely coupled, but interoperable, open source tools that declaratively automate cloud provisioning and life-cycle management leveraging containers as the unit of software delivery. AT&T, SKT and Intel jointly launched Airship as an Open Infrastructure pilot project at the OpenStack Summit in May of 2018 and, the Airship open source community released its first enterprise-grade release Airship 1.0 on April 29, 2019.

Within AT&T, Airship has allowed us to provide operations with a single work flow for all changes within the Network Cloud. You simply manage the standardized YAML documents that define the cloud, submit them, and the platform predictably takes care of the rest. Given this is a new way of operating, there has been a continuous feedback loop from Operations to harden the platform for scale and security as we continue to put Airship and our Network Cloud through its paces.

While we may not be implementing DevOps in the purest sense of the word, Airship, collaboration and the new organizational structure between development and operations were key to delivering into production a new Network Cloud Platform and a new 5G Packet Core in record-setting time. These teams met the challenge, and AT&T launched the world’s first standards-based mobile 5G network in December of 2018. Today, our 5G network is live in parts of 19 cities, and our goal is to have nationwide coverage using sub-6 spectrum by early 2020.

To learn more about Airship, or join the community:

Join one of the many sessions planned @ the Open Infrastructure Summit in Denver