Based on Mobile World Congress (MWC) last month, we are now entering another time when the telecom technology landscape is evolving rapidly. There will be a huge shift to virtualized, agile, software oriented and common building block-based telecom clouds. This shift is at least as big, if not bigger, than any of the prior changes and my bet is that it will also spawn huge indirect IT ecosystem changes over time.
I have been involved in telecom for a few decades and have seen the industry change significantly. It’s hard to predict exactly what the end state will be, but it is both exciting and terrifying in that with these huge changes, lots of status quo perspectives will be challenged and new models will start to emerge. Personally I love this kind of change. In an industry that invests hundreds of billions in capital expenditures alone, change at this scale can be transformational for many more than just the operators themselves.
Here’s my short list of conclusions from this year’s Mobile World Congress:
- The telecom industry is huge and attracting even more interest and investment than ever. More than 93,000 people attended MWC from over 200 countries. Beyond that, more than 2,100 companies exhibited (including EMC, VMware & Pivotal). Technology disruption happens best at scale and MWC showed that this scale of involvement is expanding rapidly, so we should see plenty of radical and interesting innovation fueling the shift.
- Almost universally, telecom operators are moving to production. Last year the industry was mostly in evaluation mode, looking for one clear model to adopt. Candidly, it did not exist. What most of the industry has determined is that there are many paths forward and all of them improve operators’ capital expenditures, operating expenditures and opportunity to create and deliver new services. The only wrong answer now is to wait. Over time new technology and new architectures will emerge, but there is now enough technology available with suppliers and partners to assist in implementation that moving forward on any of these paths is now realistic.
- Having a fast path to deliver new services, value and enter new markets is the motivation to move forward. A necessary step to do this is the deployment of a new class of software oriented virtualized infrastructure. The list of new markets and offerings at MWC was huge and included connected cars, Internet of Things, home security, personalized services, cloud mediation and brokering, collaborative communications, health and wellness, and smart cities. Beyond these new services, most operators see that moving their existing network functions to a new infrastructure will have huge impacts on capital expenditures, operating expenditures and agility. There are no longer debates over impact on current and potential future business opportunities.
- The infrastructure that will underpin the new services is not universal or consistent. In fact, what we see is that there will be many ways to build out these next generation virtualized, agile, software oriented infrastructures.
There is a spectrum of options. On one end are the telecom clouds based on proven architectures of modern enterprise environments at scale. They use what works, including VMware, EMC storage arrays, vBlocks, x86 servers and IP networking. These are the building blocks of the biggest banks, governments and manufacturers in the world and many telecom operators are starting with these tools and moving quickly. At the other end, some operators are exploring technical components that come from the webscale world. The tools used in that environment include container-based virtualization, heavy use of white box hardware and software-based infrastructure tools such as EMC ScaleIO or ViPR.
However given the scale and complexity of most operators, the toolkit of choice is a combination of proven infrastructure and new technology. This is not surprising since the workloads on a modern telecom cloud will range from core mission critical to exploratory and experimental. Having a host of tools in the cloud architecture gives the platform the flexibility to support that diversity. As long as the technology results in an agile, software oriented, shared, virtualized cloud, there is no wrong answer.
- Finally, this next phase of the telecom ecosystem is a huge opportunity for the EMC Federation. We have spent the past decade virtualizing the enterprise world and the impact has been huge. Efficiency in data centers is up dramatically, costs per unit of compute and storage are down dramatically, time to deploy applications is down by orders of magnitude and resiliency and agility are both better than they have ever been in modern IT.
In this next phase of telecom (NFV, telco transformation, telco clouds, etc.), the end state is similar even if the technology continues to evolve to better serve specific telecom needs. EMC Federation efforts over the past few years have not just delivered the existing building blocks, but added new hardware capabilities, new infrastructure tools, and higher level technology focused on big data and application development and delivery.
Our engagement model with operators is focused on leveraging this massive toolset of modern infrastructure capability plus deep technical expertise to collaborate on building out next generation infrastructures. Our telecom customers are engaged and looking for the kind of deep collaboration EMC does well.
Having seen telecom evolve before, I know it’s always a long journey. However, I am convinced that the industry is now fully in motion and I look forward to the innovation once these next generation telecom infrastructures become available to the world. Overall a very exciting indicator of things to come.