Public cloud providers seek closer collaboration with telcos

Google's membership in the Linux Foundation Network and Microsoft's launch of Azure for Operators both underscore the importance cloud providers see in working with telcos.

Sue Marek, Special Contributor

September 28, 2020

4 Min Read
Public cloud providers seek closer collaboration with telcos

With 5G networks proliferating across the US, public cloud providers are looking for ways to harness the new business opportunities that these faster, more sophisticated networks are likely to create. At the same time, telecom operators are trying to figure out how to optimize their edge networks and make good on their promises of delivering low-latency applications.

Two recent developments in this area are bringing cloud providers and telecom operators together and fueling new collaborations – Google Cloud Platform's membership in the Linux Foundation Network (LFN) and Microsoft's debut of Azure for Operators, a carrier-grade cloud platform that incorporates edge compute capabilities.

GCP's membership in LFN was announced during that organization's Open Networking and Edge Summit. GCP will be a Platinum member in LFN and Amol Phadke, managing director of global telecom industry solutions for GCP, will join LFN's governing board.

LFN's Platinum members include a number of telecom operators such as AT&T, Bell, China Mobile, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon and Vodafone. GCP is the only public cloud provider that is a Platinum member. Microsoft is a Gold member and AWS is not an LFN member at this time. All LFN Platinum members get a seat on the Board. Gold members elect one board member per every three companies, and Silver members elect one member to represent them all. 

Speaking at the ONES virtual summit, GCP's Phadke noted the high usage of Kubernetes – an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications – among telcom operators and said that it was important to continue to innovate. "The importance here is not that it is perfect but that progress has been made," he said. GCP is the home of Kubernetes. The platform originally was developed at Google and released as open source in 2014.

Arpit Joshipura, general manager, networking, edge and IoT at the Linux Foundation, said during a press conference about the announcement about GCP's membership in LFN is an example of the evolution of the public cloud players and their role with telecom operators. Initially, the cloud players looked at the telco workloads as standard compute cycles and workloads. Now they are starting to deliver true networking workloads, and this is driving the public cloud providers and the telecom operators to realize they need to collaborate. He added that GCP recognizes that there is a community with LFN and that the telcos want to build open source. "The best way to help them is to be part of this," he said.

Joshipura also said that GCP is joining LFN because it wants to "influence how the two markets will come together in an open manner."

GCP already has a relationship with AT&T. In March, the two companies announced that they were collaborating to help enterprises take advantage of Google Cloud's technologies by using AT&T network connectivity at the edge, including 5G. The goal of that partnership is to minimize latency as well as provide stronger security. Plus, GCP also is working with Verizon on artificial intelligence. In July, GCP said Verizon was using its Google Cloud Contact Center AI to assist customers and help get the product information more quickly.

Azure for operators
While GCP gets ever closer to carrier networking interests, Microsoft isn't about to be left out. The company, which has existing partnerships with several operators, announced Azure for Operators, a platform that the company says it is building to support operators as they evolve their infrastructure and operations.

Microsoft said that Azure for Operators will incorporate technologies such as software-defined networking, network function virtualization, and other service-based architectures. In a blog post, Jason Zander, executive vice president of Microsoft Azure, said that Azure for offer a number of services and applications to the enterprise edge, network edge or cloud.

The software giant said this strategy will build on its acquisition of Affirmed Networks, which makes virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC) platforms to support 5G deployments, and its purchase of Metaswitch Networks, an old school builder of networking protocols, communications software and, more recently, virtualized network functions for 5G networks.

In his post, Zander said that Microsoft knows that not everything will move into the public cloud, and that's why it will "meet operators where they are – whether at the enterprise edge, the network edge, or in the cloud." He also outlined areas where operators said that having control is important to them and said that GCP will keep this in mind as it fine-tunes the platform. Those areas include:

  • Control over where a slice, network API, or function is presented to the customer

  • Definition of where and how traffic enters and exits their network

  • Visibility and control over where key functions are executed for a given customer scenario

  • Configuration and performance parameters of core network function

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

About the Author(s)

Sue Marek

Special Contributor

Follow Sue on Twitter @suemarek

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