AT&T's recent flurry of cloud announcements with Microsoft, IBM and Dell show the importance of cloud computing to the telecom industry.
But as this blog from industry commentator Tom Nolle points out, it also reflects the somewhat confusing nature of telco cloud. This confusion prompted AT&T to publish its own blog -- Setting the Record Straight on Our Cloud Strategy.
The term cloud computing has been around for many years and nowadays we tend to associate it with the public cloud computing services offered by companies like Amazon web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. But the term telco cloud is much newer. In some respects, it is just a marketing label, like cloud banking or healthcare cloud -- it is about the application of cloud computing technology to a specific industry vertical, in our case telecoms.
But for the telecom industry, the move to cloud also reflects a broader trend about the convergence between network and IT domains. Historically these were seen as quite distinct, with separate suppliers, technologies and protocols. But just as Ethernet and IP have displaced telecom specific technologies such as frame relay and ATM, CSPs are looking to cloud technology as an alternative to the complex infrastructure that supports their IT systems (including their OSS and BSS functions) and even as an alternative to the hardware that supports network specific functions like routing and switching.
I see telco cloud as an umbrella term that covers three different application types.
Firstly, we have the NFV Cloud -- essentially a private cloud deployment within a telco that hosts Virtual Network Functions.
Secondly, we have the Enterprise Service Cloud -- a combination of in-house and third-party cloud capabilities that CSPs offer to their enterprise customers.
Thirdly, we have the IT Cloud -- a cloud deployment that supports telco specific IT applications such as OSS and BSS as well as other regular enterprise applications, such as email and CRM. Most operators currently run OSS/BSS in their own datacenters while using SaaS services for email and CRM. However, some are starting to use public cloud to host OSS/BSS, as AT&T alludes to in its blog.
It will likely always make sense for telcos to run some applications in-house, although the portion they offload to public cloud providers is likely to increase. The workloads for NFV, IT and enterprise services are very different. NFV workloads generally require high throughput, low latency, and high availability. In contrast, IT workloads generally have high disk space requirements, and need high disk Input/Output operations per second. As such NFV workloads are probably best suited to a telco's internal datacentre while IT workloads make more sense to outsource.
At Light Reading's Software-Driven Operations summit on November 5 in London, one of the panel discussions will discuss the topic of how best to build the telco cloud. We'll debate whether network and IT operations teams can coexist on the same cloud and highlight the challenges of running real-time OSS/BSS applications in public cloud infrastructure.
For more on this topic:
- It's Groundhog Day! Explaining AT&T's Microsoft & IBM Deals
- Dell Flying to 5G Cloud on AT&T-Led 'Airship'
— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading