Making Sense of the Telco Cloud

In recent years the cloudification of communication networks, or “telco cloud” has become a byword for telecom modernisation. This Telecoms.com Intelligence Monthly Briefing aims to analyse what telcos’ transition to cloud means to the stakeholders in the telecom and cloud ecosystems. Before exploring the nooks and crannies of telco cloud, however, it is worthwhile first taking an elevated view of cloud native in general. On one hand, telco cloud is a subset of the overall cloud native landscape, on the other, telco cloud almost sounds an oxymoron. Telecom operator’s monolithic networks and cloud architecture are often seen as two different species, but such impressions are wrong.

(Here we are sharing the opening section of this Telecoms.com Intelligence special briefing to look into how telco cloud has changing both the industry landscape and operator strategies.

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.)

What cloud native is, and why we need it

“Cloud native” have been buzz words for a couple of years though often, like with many other buzz words, different people mean many different things when they use the same term. As the authors of a recently published Microsoft ebook quipped, ask ten colleagues to define cloud native, and there’s good chance you’ll get eight different answers. (Rob Vettor, Steve “ardalis” Smith: Architecting Cloud Native .NET Applications for Azure, preview edition, April 2020)

Here are a couple of “cloud native” definitions that more or less agree with each other, though with different stresses.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), an industry organisation with over 500 member organisations from different sectors of the industry, defines cloud native as “computing (that) uses an open source software stack to deploy applications as microservices, packaging each part into its own container, and dynamically orchestrating those containers to optimize resource utilization.”

Gabriel Brown, an analyst from Heavy Reading, has a largely similar definition for cloud native, though he puts it more succinctly. For him, cloud native means “containerized micro-services deployed on bare metal and managed by Kubernetes”, the de facto standard of container management.

Although cloud native has a strong inclination towards containers, or containerised services, it is not just about containers. An important element of cloud native computing is in its deployment mode using DevOps. This is duly stressed by Omdia, a research firm, which prescribes cloud native as “the first foundation is to use agile methodologies in development, building on this with DevOps adoption across IT and, ideally, in the organization as well, and using microservices software architecture, with deployment on the cloud (wherever it is, on-premises or public).”

Some would argue the continuous nature of DevOps is as important to cloud native as the infrastructure and containerised services. Red Hat, an IBM subsidiary and one of the leading cloud native vendors and champions for DevOps practices, sees cloud native in a number of common themes including “heavily virtualized, software-defined, highly resilient infrastructure, allowing telcos to add services more quickly and centrally manage their resources.”

These themes are aligned with the understanding of cloud native by Telecoms.com Intelligence, and this report will discuss cloud native and telco cloud along this line. (A full Q&A with Azhar Sayeed, Chief Architect, Service Provider at Red Hat can be found at the end of this report).

The main benefits of cloud native computing are speed, agility, and scalability. As CNCF spells it out, “cloud native technologies empower organizations to build and run scalable applications in modern, dynamic environments such as public, private, and hybrid clouds. Containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative APIs exemplify this approach. These techniques enable loosely coupled systems that are resilient, manageable, and observable. Combined with robust automation, they allow engineers to make high-impact changes frequently and predictably with minimal toil.”

To adapt such thinking to the telecom industry, the gains from migrating to cloud native are primarily a reflection of, and driven by, the increasing convergence between network and IT domains. The first candidate domain that cloud technology can vastly improve on, and to a certain degree replace the heavy infrastructure, is the support for the telcos’ own IT systems, including the network facing Operational Support Systems and customer facing Business Support System (OSS and BSS).

But IT cloud alone is far from what telcos can benefit from the migration to cloud native. The rest of this report will discuss how telcos can and do embark on the journey to cloud native, as a means to deliver true business benefits through improved speed, agility, and scalability to their own networks and their customers.

The rest of the report include these sections:

  • The many stratifications of telco cloud
  • Clouds gathering on telcos
  • What we can expect to see on the telco cloud skyline
  • Telco cloud openness leads to agility and savings — Q&A with Azhar Sayeed, Chief Architect, Service Provider, Red Hat
  • Additional Resources

The full version of the report is available for free to download here.

Microsoft doubles down on the telco cloud with Metaswitch acquisition

Don’t say you weren’t warned, telecoms industry. The tech big guns are trained on your home turf and they’re not afraid to splash the cash.

Less than two months ago Microsoft bought into NFV by acquiring Affirmed Networks. Now it has doubled-down on that investment with the acquisition of Metaswitch Networks, which is also all about the virtual network, for an undisclosed sum.

“This announcement builds on our recent acquisition of Affirmed Networks, which closed on April 23, 2020,” explained the Microsoft blog on the matter. “Metaswitch’s complementary portfolio of ultra-high-performance, cloud-native communications software will expand our range of offerings available for the telecommunications industry. Microsoft intends to leverage the talent and technology of these two organizations, extending the Azure platform to both deploy and grow these capabilities at scale in a way that is secure, efficient and creates a sustainable ecosystem.

“As the industry moves to 5G, operators will have opportunities to advance the virtualization of their core networks and move forward on a path to an increasingly cloud-native future. Microsoft will continue to meet customers where they are, working together with the industry as operators and network equipment providers evolve their own operations.”

So it seems clear that Microsoft is pretty serious about the telco cloud. It already has some of the best cloud infrastructure in the world and it’s rapidly adding the software required to make it telecoms-friendly. Metaswitch is small, so this seems to be as much about talent as products. Either way Microsoft is rapidly building a telco cloud capability that specialist vendors can only dream about.

Mycom OSI makes telco cloud move with Red Hat collaboration

Network assurance vendor Mycom OSI has moved to improve its cloud credentials through a partnership with Red Hat.

The specific point of the partnership is to offer automated assurance across hybrid NFV networks. In the virtualized telco utopia most of the functions will exist in a massive, fluid cloud but, as we are continually reminded, the road to the promised land is a convoluted one. One of the many complexities to be contended with is how you monitor, maintain and optimize all this.

Red Hat has been heavily invested in the telco cloud from an open source perspective for some time, so it makes sense for Mycom to collaborate with it in order to stay relevant in the cloud era. Mycom’s Experience Assurance and Analytics solution will be deployed on the Red Hat OpenStack Platform and the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform to make the telco cloud magic happen.

“Telco clouds are a key enabler to unlocking on-demand, real time consumer and enterprise digital services such as SD-WAN and IoT opportunities for CSPs, and our recent innovations in telco cloud assurance have resulted in rapid growth in customer projects,” said Mounir Ladki, President and CTO at Mycom. “Red Hat not only helps us to deliver agility, speed and cost benefits to our customers, but also a rich stream of essential telco cloud data that feeds our analytics engine. We are delighted to have such a strong collaboration with Red Hat.”

“As the telco industry moves towards cloudification of networks to increase innovation, agility and scalability, service quality and performance are top of mind for telco leaders,” said Darrell Jordan-Smith, VP of Global Telecommunications and ICT at Red Hat. “We are pleased to underpin MYCOM OSI’s assurance and analytics solution with Red Hat’s highly scalable hybrid cloud and container-based technologies. Together, we are setting out to help operators better understand and act on the performance of their networks as they deliver on their network virtualization strategies.”

Red Hat has made its name in the telco sphere by tailoring open source software to make it ‘telco grade’ i.e. commercially useful and robust. Network assurance is all about making sure the network is commercially useful and robust so this partnership seems to make sense. Furthermore it might set a precedent for further such collaborations as the telco cloud matures.

Three makes moves in the telco cloud space

Mycom OSI has announced it has been selected to assure Three UK’s next generation core network which deploys NFV and SDN, as part of what it claims is the world’s first Telco Cloud.

As demand for VoLTE, high definition video and other digital services continue to grow, Three will deploy a new cloud native core network, which it says will enable massive scalability, elasticity, and better reliability for customers. It’s another incremental step towards IoT and 5G, providing a mid-term solution to increase speed in response to customers’ dynamic service demands.

“We are excited and privileged to be selected by Three UK for the world’s foremost network virtualization project. While others are debating various approaches and standards, Three has designed a leading architecture, selected leading partners and is now leading its peer group in deploying Telco Cloud,” said Mycom OSI President, Mounir Ladki.

“Mycom OSI’s Assurance suite will enable Three to deliver market-leading customer experience, agility, scale and reliability whilst embracing exciting new opportunities with digital services, IoT and 5G.”

As part of the agreement, Mycom OSI’s Experience Assurance and Analytics suite will be deployed to monitor Three UK’s Telco Cloud. The suite will assure both new virtualized and existing physical networks, and provide closed-loop assurance-driven orchestration based on end-to-end network and service quality.

Elsewhere in Three’s telco cloud world, Astellia has been brought into the fold to help the team transform the network to a virtualized and software-based architecture. The work will focus on providing the visibility and the capability to improve network performance and customer experience.

“Our customers are at the heart of everything we do. We were the first UK network to introduce all you can eat data and we let our customers roam abroad at no extra cost in 60 destinations,” said Adam O’Keeffe, Head of OSS Transformation at Three UK.

“Astellia’s technology will help build upon our already excellent customer experience by deploying the capability to monitor the performance of services and customer experience on our new virtualized technology.”

Using Astellia’s vProbes-based virtual monitoring solution, the team will monitor traffic within the virtual infrastructure of Three’s network, raise alarms for performance degradation and troubleshoot issues. Astellia will provide various network, subscriber and service analytics with the ambition of improving the customer’s quality of experience.