To analyse Microsoft gave more information on its efforts to attract telecom operators to its Azure cloud platform, building on the intellectual property and skills acquired during last year’s partnership with AT&T, as part of from which the telephone operator has chosen to move its main 5G network operations to Azure.
Microsoft announced Azure for operators in 2020, saying it was adding capacity to its cloud to support carrier-level network operations such as low-latency connectivity and network slicing. The idea was that telecom operators would be able to take advantage of the elastic capacities of the cloud and reduce the need to invest so much capital expenditure in new infrastructure for their 5G deployments, in the same way that corporate customers have. adopted the technology.
This clearly pleased AT&T, as in June of last year it announced that it was not only moving its 5G mobile network to Azure, but also providing Microsoft with access to its IP and technical expertise. This included handing over the Network Cloud platform he had developed to operate its 5G services to the giant Windows, as well as any engineering team willing to transfer to Redmond.
OpenStack at 10: A failure on its own terms, a success in its own niche
On the face of it, this was an about-face for AT&T, which was one of the big users of OpenStack just a few years ago, when the Open Infrastructure Foundation was doing the platform. -open source form the ideal solution for telecom operators. to develop their new generation mobile networks. Correct Last year, AT&T donated its specifications for an open network design for a router chassis – dubbed the Distributed and Disaggregated Chassis (DDC) – to the Open Compute Project.
But rather than a rejection of open source, AT&T’s move to Azure may simply be a reflection of the phone company’s financial situation: AT&T was saddle with nearly $ 190 billion in debt last year and is doing everything to reduce it. It had already offloaded some of its data center operations and presumably calculated that it would make more sense to move its 5G network operations to a public cloud than having to build and maintain more of its own infrastructure. It didn’t help that OpenStack didn’t live up to the hype.
Also, it doesn’t matter that modern software-defined network services are typically delivered in the form of Linux-based Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) or Cloud Native Network Functions (CNFs), which can be deployed in a network. public cloud.
Meanwhile, Network Cloud technology originally developed by AT&T is expected to be made available to other operators in the future, thanks to the partnership with Microsoft. Redmond says it is evolving Azure for Operators to cover hybrid infrastructure and support scalable carrier-class network services, but also aims to use machine learning techniques to leverage self-optimized networks that should be capable. to provide additional resources as well as to defend against threats.
In one update this weekMicrosoft vice president for 5G strategy Shawn Hakl said the company’s efforts are aimed at running network workloads on a carrier-class cloud, which he describes as a hybrid cloud, covering both public and dedicated on-premises cloud infrastructure.
“Telecommunications services are highly distributed and are likely to become more so over time,” Hakl said. “Therefore, the value of building a carrier-class hybrid cloud model lies in its ability to meet customers where they are: at the edge of the cloud, at the edge of the network, or at the edge of the network. ‘business. “
You can’t go back – or can you?
But has AT&T gotten into a corner thanks to this partnership with Microsoft? It would almost certainly be difficult and costly for the phone company to revert to operating its 5G network operations entirely using its own infrastructure, especially since it has effectively relinquished control of its own network cloud technology. developed in-house. However, as Microsoft points out, AT&T retains the ability to select and manage the network applications it operates on Azure, delivered as VNF or CNF, to provide mobile network services to AT&T customers.
In return, Microsoft says the partnership enables AT&T to deliver new services faster and more flexibly using Azure, which already has a global footprint. This could give it a competitive advantage over competing telecoms operators deploying 5G infrastructure, but it remains to be seen how long it would retain that advantage when Microsoft intends to offer Azure for Operators to all comers.
Maybe the upshot of all of this is that even powerful carriers are adding their own services to running services in the public cloud, just like businesses. And just like businesses, some are deciding they just can’t compete with the economy of scale that hyperscalers enjoy.
According to Paolo Pescatore, founder and telecoms analyst at PP Foresight, this decision is inevitable because telecom operators are seeing their margins shrinking more and more.
“Ultimately, all roads lead to closer collaboration with hyperscalers, which is a double-edged sword for telecom operators. The role of tech giants in this ever-changing landscape continues to proliferate and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, ”he said.
Telecom operators will need to be cautious about choosing partners to work closely with, he warned. ®