Some telcos support up to 3 clouds: Special Report

IBM won a deal with Vodafone Idea Limited to build it one universal cloud. (Getty Images)

Ideally, telcos will have just one “telco cloud,” but because of their gradual transition to cloud architectures, they might have as many as three telco clouds. The topic will be discussed at FierceTelecom’s free virtual event “Telco Cloud Transformation: A Deep Dive” on Thursday, June 18.

Some telcos originally worked with cloud architectures for their operations support systems and business support systems (OSS/BSS). Then they may have created a cloud for their own network functions. And perhaps they created a third cloud to serve their enterprise customers.

Bill Lambertson, IBM’s global director for cloud, 5G networking and edge computing, said sometimes a telco’s different clouds are managed separately by the chief information officer and the chief technology officer. The CIO would typically manage the cloud for the company’s OSS/BSS systems, and the CTO would oversee the telco’s own network cloud.

“In some cases, some carriers are building a single universal cloud for the telco network, the IT apps, and business-to-business enterprise edge solutions,” said Lambertson. For example, the Indian service provider Vodafone Idea Limited (VIL) is building a universal cloud for all those business domains, with help from IBM.

VIL signed a five-year agreement with IBM to help it build a universal cloud to support VIL’s own network as well as services for its over 387 million subscribers. Vodafone will leverage a horizontal virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) based on Red Hat OpenStack for virtual machines and Red Hat OpenShift for containers.

“I wouldn’t say it’s easy,” said Lambertson of the universal cloud. “But it’s absolutely what telcos want to do.” He said they want to disaggregate the software stack from the hardware; and they want one cloud architecture for everything. “They want to prepare for edge and ultimately 5G,” he said.

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Rakuten Mobile has done exactly this for its greenfield wireless network in Japan. Rakuten operates one horizontal cloud layer above its macro cell sites, edge data centers and central data centers. The cloud runs on Red Hat’s OpenStack platform with contributions from Cisco.

Outsourcing cloud infrastructure

The data center company Equinix launched a service in 2019 that provides a hosted network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVi) platform. “It’s like a private cloud specifically only to host VNFs,” said Equinix VP of business development Jim Poole. “We’re catering to a use case we’ve seen for our enterprise customers. But we have seen interest from the telco industry to extend their cloud into our environment.”

Poole said that telcos usually site their clouds in their own facilities. “But if their nearest control point is far away, you introduce tromboning,” he said. Tromboning is when traffic is sent back and forth needlessly. With Equinix’s NFVi platform sited in an Equinix data center, the traffic can often stay in the building, traveling between the service provider and its customers, which also have a presence in Equinix.

“Normally a telco would put a PoP in our building,” said Poole. “Now, they can deploy a VNF on Equinix equipment. Interconnecting counter-parties is the foundation of our business.”

Equinix has found that its telco customers are very much driven by their capex budgets. In the past, they would come to Equinix and buy co-location and put a bunch of network equipment in the Equinix data center. But all that hardware is expensive.

“By offering this NFVi platform, which we call Network Edge, you don’t have to spend capex to put a networking function in an Equinix facility,” said Poole.

Edge Cloud

DriveNets is an Israeli company that builds large networks for service providers and hyperscalers. It provides large-scale routing, in competition with the likes of Cisco, Juniper and Nokia. “We’re providing an alternative, software-based solution on white boxes,” said Inbar Lasser-Raab, chief marketing officer with DriveNets.

Although the telco cloud focuses largely on compute and storage, DriveNets is “building the networks piece just like the compute and storage piece,” said Lasser-Raab, who adds that this takes on added importance as telcos start adding more cloud presence at the edge.

IBM’s Lambertson said, “The growth at the edge is really shifting the cloud battle from the public domain out to the edge. It’s estimated that today there are approximately 15 billion edge devices; IBM sees the growth of that to 50 billion by 2022.”

He said in the future a lot more compute will be done at the edge rather than in a centralized public cloud. “Operators are developing a strategy to become more than just a pipe provider and deliver a set of user experiences at the edge that combines compute with network performance.”

But they’ll have to compete with hyperscalers that are also targeting the edge.

Amazon Web Services has Outpost, which extends AWS infrastructure to virtually any datacenter, co-location space, or on-premises facility. And AWS also has Wavelength Zones, which bring AWS compute and storage services to telecommunications providers’ data centers at the edge of their 5G network. Wavelength will initially be available in partnership with Verizon in 2020. And AWS is also working with other carriers like Vodafone, SK Telecom, and KDDI to expand Wavelength Zones to more locations by the end of 2020.

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Similarly, Microsoft has Azure Edge Zones; Google has Anthos; and IBM has Cloud Satellite