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Service Provider Cloud

Can Walmart help 5G providers navigate the cloud?

According to a new article from The Wall Street Journal, Walmart is shoring up its business against giant cloud providers while concurrently building a hybrid cloud strategy that can leverage them. The retailer's efforts could signal a path for 5G network operators that compete with some cloud computing companies while using the scale of the public cloud in their own operations.

Walmart uses cloud services from both Microsoft and Google. The company has moved against using Amazon cloud services since Walmart is in a vicious battle with Amazon's retail arm. However, according to the article, Walmart is employing a hybrid approach to the cloud so that it isn't tied into any one provider's offerings.

At the same time, Walmart is installing computer servers inside its retail stores, thereby giving the company the ability to run its services on its own computers, in its own internal cloud. Impressively, that network now spans more than 10,000 edge nodes, according to Walmart. However, the company doesn't plan to rent out that network to others looking for a distributed cloud computing service.

(Source: Unsplash)
(Source: Unsplash)

"The hybrid cloud allows us to be able to draw the best that the public cloud providers can offer and to be able to combine that with something that is really purpose-built for us," Walmart Global CTO Suresh Kumar told the WSJ.

Walmart's cloud strategy is important to 5G operators for a number of reasons.

The 5G angle

First, network operators are also putting more of their operations into the cloud. Most already have at least some IT functions running inside a third-party cloud. And some – such as Dish Network and AT&T – are putting their core networking services into the cloud.

Second, 5G operators are also transforming their own legacy telecom networks into more advanced, distributed and cloud-like networks. For big operators like Verizon, those operations can span hundreds or even thousands of locations around the country.

As a result, some 5G operators have toyed with the notion of offering a public edge computing network that others can use, but few have done so in any major way. Verizon today counts roughly two dozen public edge computing locations through Amazon, while AT&T boasts of a handful available through Google and Microsoft. T-Mobile, for its part, is offering edge computing through Lumen's network while at the same time developing private edge computing services through its new Advanced Network Solutions (ANS) division.

Finally, like Walmart, 5G network operators are spreading their efforts across multiple cloud computing providers, rather than getting locked into an agreement with a single provider. "We are hybrid multicloud," said Sidd Chenumolu, Dish Network's VP of technology development, during a recent interview. Chenumolu explained that Dish isn't necessarily tied to Amazon's cloud. "One of our biggest principles is that an app should be loosely coupled to the underlying infrastructure so that apps can run on multiple clouds."

Of course, there are clear differences between 5G network operators like Dish and retailers like Walmart. For one, Walmart is primarily consuming cloud services, while operators like AT&T and Verizon clearly hope to also sell some cloud services to enterprises.

The situation underscores the reality that the telecom market is nuanced, complex and still evolving. For example, Verizon and Walmart are in discussions about some kind of 5G partnership, according to a WSJ report from earlier this year. The companies are reportedly looking at a number of ways to use the technology, including Walmart installing 5G antennas in its stores for Verizon's network. The companies are also looking at ways Verizon's 5G network could aid Walmart in its efforts to offer healthcare services to shoppers.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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