Organizations around the world have been in the process of transforming their operations using digital technologies to increase efficiency, productivity, customer experience, and innovation. A similar transformation is occurring in the telecom industry as it seeks to transform its legacy infrastructure into a faster, leaner, and more agile operating model. At the core of these transformations is the cloud.
But first, before jumping into the cloud, we should talk about how organizations ran their operations before the cloud. For the most part, businesses relied on infrastructure, which included physical hardware and software installed and managed within the organization's premises. For industries like telecom, we’re talking about an incredibly massive, highly distributed infrastructure of dedicated servers, storage devices, switches, and other networking equipment, all of which are extremely costly to purchase, manage, and maintain. Implementing changes in this kind of environment proved to be arduous, inefficient, and time-consuming.
On the other hand, moving telco operations to the cloud allows operators greater flexibility, efficiency, scalability, and opportunities for growth. These modern architectures help operators break away from the constraints of dedicated hardware-based solutions and instead run on open, software-based architectures hosted on generic computing equipment.
There are several approaches to cloud adoption:
- In a public cloud approach, the cloud infrastructure is owned and operated by a third-party provider, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform, who makes resources such as servers, storage, and applications available to the public over the internet on a pay-as-you-go basis.
- A private cloud is a cloud infrastructure that is exclusively used by a single organization. The infrastructure can be hosted either on-premises or by a third-party provider, but the key difference is that it is not shared with other organizations.
- A hybrid cloud is a combination of public and private clouds that are integrated to work together as a single infrastructure. This approach allows organizations to leverage the benefits of both public and private clouds, such as scalability, cost-effectiveness, security, and flexibility. Hybrid clouds can also help organizations to optimize their workloads by moving them between public and private clouds as needed.
- The edge cloud approach involves placing cloud computing resources closer to the end-users, typically at the network edge. This approach reduces latency and improves performance for applications that require real-time processing, such as IoT devices or video streaming. Edge clouds are often used in conjunction with public or private clouds to distribute workloads and improve overall performance.
Overall, the choice of cloud approach depends on an organization’s specific needs. In the telco world, many operators are moving specific areas of their business to the public cloud but are stopping short when it comes to network functions.
But “moving to the cloud” is tricky business for telcos. An operator's success depends on transforming how the network operates, so they must have a strategic mindset to consider what makes sense for the future. And, looking back at that massive, distributed infrastructure we mentioned earlier, therein lies the answer to why it’s so tricky. It’s an enormously complex, interconnected web with years of layered customizations that will require more than just a little rearchitecting.
Cloud computing enables telco modernization and innovation
Despite these challenges, evolution to the cloud is happening quickly. Continuously changing customer demands for bigger, better, and faster services and new competitors encroaching on their space are driving telcos to modernize their networks. Their success hinges on their ability to accelerate process automation, leverage the vast amount of data in their networks for advanced analytics, and utilize new technologies to innovate and create new opportunities for growth.
For example, operators using cloud-based roaming solutions gain enhanced steering capabilities and increase flexibility, scalability, and cost-efficiency of their roaming business.
Another benefit of the cloud is how it can help operators facilitate innovation. For telcos to differentiate and develop the exciting products and services that customers want, they first need the ability to experiment. The cloud provides that infrastructure and workspace. Rather than having to go through rounds of internal approvals for a large hardware investment that may or may not be needed in the long run, it's easier and less expensive for telcos to trial a new product when they can quickly order compute infrastructure and resources from a cloud provider. Then, once the initial development or experimentation is complete, they can simply shut down the servers with limited investment lost.
The journey thus far
Network Function Virtualization (NFV) was the first step in moving the networking functions of compute, storage, and network operations from the physical pieces to the virtual machines of the telco cloud. The intention was to replace the expensive, dedicated hardware for each network function with less expensive, virtual common off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment. The telco runs software-based application programming interfaces (APIs) to the cloud to communicate, control, and manage the network.
NFV provides a host of benefits to network operators, including flexibility, scalability, and cost reductions. It allows operators to separate network functions that typically run on dedicated hardware and implement those functions as software, accelerating the deployment of new services more quickly without adding new hardware.
But, like most journeys, we tend to learn new things along the way, and the telco cloud journey has provided the same opportunity. A few years after NFV was introduced, along came cloud-native computing, an approach to building software applications specifically for the cloud. Gartner estimates that 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms by 2025. Where NFV may have been more limited in its abilities and cost more than many expected, cloud-native has moved into the spotlight as an enabler for 5G and edge computing, addressing the needs for greater flexibility, scalability, and capacity. One of the key enablers for creating cloud native solutions is the concept of containerization – self-contained software code that includes the operating system (OS) libraries and other components needed to create a single lightweight version that can be run on any infrastructure.
Mobileum’s Active Intelligence is optimized explicitly for hosting Mobileum’s cloud-native applications. Providing the capability to deploy containers as a service (CaaS) over bare-metal servers without needing a virtualization layer, the infrastructure solution delivers a radically simplified architecture compared to running containers in virtual machines.
Greater efficiency, improved automation and performance can be achieved by removing the virtualization layer from the cloud infrastructure, Installations are supported on bare metal servers, virtualized cloud environments (such as OpenStack and VMware), and public cloud virtualized environments, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure.
Making significant changes to anything as large and complex as the telecom industry is like trying to redirect an enormous oil tanker, but slower. Our challenges include not just the technical hurdles, but also human ones. Cultural shifts, a gap in skillsets and knowledge, and organizational siloes can hamper progress even more than technology. It’s important to work with partners who understand what’s at stake, and are focused on developing the tools and processes that will help you along the way.
So, tell us, where are you in your telco cloudification journey?
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