The Fallacy of Telco Cloud

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In our multi-cloud conversations, we continue to recognize that the Telco Cloud  is core to realizing an ANY-X (Any Device, Anywhere, Anytime, Any Network) experience for enterprise organizations and consumers. The Telco Cloud is characterized as the existing core data centers transitioning to be more IT-centric. The emerging network edge, the first insertion point of Cloud Native architectures, will materialize.

As I visit with customer CxOs the discussion centers around various architectural, technological, and operational requirements that are driving the Telco Cloud. For example, the multitude of use-cases that will drive enterprise digital transformation over 5G networks is now top of mind. Regardless of the starting point, it is apparent that we are early on this journey of realizing the full potential of the Telco Cloud.

The benefits of “cloud” are well-known and well-understood – resource pooling, improved availability, cost-effectiveness, and capacity flexibility – but we have only experienced a fraction of the benefits of cloud computing in Telco Networks.

For the last six years, and especially in the last three, we as an industry have been focused on technology. First, proving the viability of virtualizing Telco workloads, with the investment in defining Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and a global set of trials, beginning in and around the first ETSI NFV working group meeting in 2012. Then, we focused on the optimization of that virtualization technology – investment in Virtual Infrastructure Managers (VIMs), I/O acceleration technologies like Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), and para-virtualization technologies, such as Single Root Input/Output Virtualization (SR-IOV) for performance and manageability of SLA-backed network functions. Now, we’ve embarked on the next set of technology advancements: separating control and user planes, accelerating I/O functions with FPGAs and SmartNICs, and starting the migration of applications towards containers and cloud native functions. This is the beginning of a second wave of technology-led investments into the Telco Cloud.

The industry continues to demonstrate technology readiness for the cloudification of the telco network. In short, the technology is mature.

The real question is – are we actually achieving the benefits of cloud in the Telco network? Rather than keep you in suspense, I will provide my opinion, and explain my reasoning.

My opinion: NO.

So, why not?  Well, let me propose two core reasons that we are not achieving the economic and operational benefits of cloud:

  • A mismatch between Architectures and Processes: The industry has largely kept the same processes in place, from procurement and vendor management to network development and operations. Cloud economics are achieved when we design, procure, and operate in horizontal platforms with well-understood abstractions. Today, while we might design in that way, the industry continues to procure and operate with pre-defined, tightly-integrated vertical stacks that are tested, documented, and backed by Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for availability and performance. Availability remains status-quo (1:1 redundancy, more-or-less) and resource pooling and capacity flexibility are non-starters between multiple vertical stacks.
  • A mismatch between Operational Expectations and Organizational Capabilities: I assume we all agree that the future state of network operations is highly automated. Automation requires a deep understanding of the domain (Telco Networks), the tools (DevOps-style, such as Chef/Puppet/Salt/Ansible), and data science. Eventually, the combination of these capabilities will yield new automated decision-making (read: AIOps). Today, these skill sets exist in multiple pockets of Telco departments and organizations. The sheer quantity of expertise needed is heavily weighted towards domain-expertise, as one would expect. However, internal organizational barriers can prevent the right level of information sharing thereby limiting the full benefit of data-driven decisions in operations.

If you asked me a year ago, I would have said we were at ground zero in identifying the gaps to cloud operations in Telco. Now I see a number of bright stars and examples in the industry that are beginning to transform themselves, inside-out, towards adopting the right processes and re-defining/upskilling/complementing existing organizational capabilities to fully realize the benefits of mature Telco Cloud technology. It’s an area that I continue to watch closely, because an organization’s ability to absorb technology transformation at-scale has a direct impact on innovation cycles and new technology adoption. In short, a positive feedback loop takes effect powering the next phases of digital growth.

Dell Technologies realizes that the journey to 5G takes an entire network transformation. In the past 6 months we have signed 3 MOUs with major Telco Service Providers in America, Europe and Asia. We are committed to working with our customers as partners to transform the network together.

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