Fierce's Cloud 101 Q&A series goes back to basics, aiming to help readers build in-depth knowledge about key cloud concepts and the overall market through progressive interviews with industry experts.
This week's interview features Phil Mottram, SVP and GM for the Communications Technology Group at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). The interview transcript has been lightly edited.
Fierce Telecom: Why is the idea of the telco cloud so closely tied to 5G? Can operators who are still using 4G technology also use the cloud?
Phil Mottram: The telco cloud concept has been around since the inception of network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies back in 2013, 2014. This technology took some time to mature, but for the last few years we have seen most deployments happening on telco cloud. Customers using 4G can definitely leverage cloud technologies. The difference with 5G is that NFV is a key building block for the rollout of 5G technology and is therefore a mandatory component as defined by ETSI, 3GPP and other standards bodies. 3GPP proposed a service-based architecture for the 5G core system. This is due to the nature of 5G networks that require them to be web-scale, agile and configurable, which in turn requires a cloud-native approach that uses web-scale containerized functions.
FT: What is HPE’s role in the cloud ecosystem? Do you offer your own cloud, a cloud platform or some combination?
PM: The HPE Communications Technology Group acts as a catalyst in helping telcos transform their networks for the 5G era. Our telco cloud offerings are available on an as-a-service basis via HPE GreenLake, helping telcos to roll out services without upfront capital outlays and to help manage the uncertainty of timing and sizing their deployments. We also offer critical assets throughout the stack with cloud-native solutions such as HPE 5G Core Stack, the Open RAN Solution Stack, and Edge Orchestrator. We also have our own HPE Container Platform that forms part of our HPE Ezmeral software portfolio, as well as partnering with leading virtualization stack vendors in the industry. We have embraced the approach of partnering with leading technology vendors to deliver the best outcomes for our customers.
FT: What role do partnerships have in the cloud? Why can’t operators just build their own cloud themselves?
PM: Telcos across the globe are focused on running their networks and delivering the best experience to their customers. Technology is a key enabler, but developing and maintaining their own cloud is not their core competency and does not necessarily make economic sense as technology evolves. Some telcos have tried this in the past and have reverted to leveraging open solutions, allowing them to focus on running their networks and delivering differentiated customer experiences.
Technology is evolving rapidly, and for telcos to thrive in this environment it is critical for them to leverage the latest advancements in technology. This is where open platforms, the decoupling of hardware and software stacks, and a cloud-native approach have become critical. HPE embraced this open approach many years ago and has developed one of the industry’s largest technology partnership ecosystems – which puts us in position to deliver the latest technology available in the market, irrespective of whether it is being developed organically or through our partner ecosystem. If a customer requires the latest GPU, processor, container solution, radio software, etc., we can validate it end to end and deliver it.
FT: Is the cloud industry facing any interoperability issues across clouds? If not, how is this issue being managed? If so, what needs to be done to overcome it?
PM: I would not characterize it as interoperability issues, but yes moving a workload from one cloud to another is not trivial. Typically, telco workloads are performance sensitive and therefore optimized for their specific environment. So, while moving across clouds is much easier today, it does require lot of optimization work to deliver the best performance.
The solution to this problem is open standards. The adoption of open community-based solutions based on industry standards is critical to making this possible, and we at HPE have been contributing toward many of these efforts, including DMTF redfish, Open RAN alliance, ODIM, ETSI–ZSM, and so on.
FT: What is currently the biggest barrier to cloud adoption? What can be done to help overcome this?
PM: Deploying decoupled solutions from multiple vendors in a distributed environment is an inherently complex task. As telcos try to leverage cloud technologies and adopt these open multivendor solutions, they are essentially insourcing risk. This is the biggest barrier to adoption for telcos.
FT: From HPE’s perspective, what is the next big thing coming down the pipeline in terms of the telco cloud?
PM: We are seeing the 5G rollout gathering momentum across the globe. We have seen the disaggregation of hardware and software increase in the core networks of telcos over the last few years. We see the next phase as an extension of these technologies into the edge, and specifically the Radio Access Network (RAN). We announced our HPE Open RAN Solution Stack in February, and you can anticipate additional announcements that help accelerate the adoption of Open RAN technologies and 5G technologies in telcos.