Despite the size of the enterprise cloud market opportunity, particularly in these economically straitened times when companies of all descriptions urgently need to reduce IT costs, it seems that most telcos still don't appear to have much of an appetite for providing enterprise cloud services. This is the case despite the obvious cloud service delivery advantages network owners have when they integrate cloud data centers into their high-performance, high-scale core networks.
There are the high-profile exceptions -- AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) leads the telco cloud pack in the US market, with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) making determined efforts to catch up. NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT) and Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) are operators to watch on the global stage and in Europe, B2B specialists Colt Technology Services Group Ltd and Interoute Communications Ltd. are proving more aggressive and innovative in the cloud market than better-known incumbent players.
These operators share a vision that enterprise cloud services will be a major contributor to their revenue growth over the next decade. There's also a defensive element to their strategies -- fear that they may potentially lose lucrative enterprise customers, since cloud and connectivity services are increasingly interlinked in an increasingly virtualized world.
Operators experimenting with virtualized CPE (customer premises equipment) are beginning to prove that they can disintermediate third-party carriers and former access partners. They can poach the latter's enterprise customers (and revenues) by offering (through a virtual gateway) combined cloud/IP VPN service bundles backed not just by IPSEC, which some OTT cloud providers already support, but their MPLS networks with carrier-grade security and resilience.
Software-defined networking (SDN) may take a while to be implemented, but it's clear that the threat comes from IT cloud providers. They are deeply interested in the opportunity to deliver high-value business-process management and enterprise applications as services, together with IT infrastructure as a service, over software-defined/virtualized connectivity. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) talked to me recently about using SDN to program enterprise-/application-specific virtual networks in the future, to and from its cloud.
Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), meanwhile, says it built SDN concepts into its Azure cloud services platform from its inception and believes Azure is more than capable of hosting individual virtual network functions (VNFs) and VNF-based service chains -- or "forwarding graphs" in ETSI-speak -- alongside Microsoft enterprise applications. (See What's NFV All About?)
The idea of Microsoft hosting virtualized networks takes some swallowing, but we ignore the warning signs at our peril. The telco industry may be skeptical about IT players' ability to provide connectivity as well as cloud services, but it is overlooking several factors. For instance, how much of a paradigm shift SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) represent in network composition and operation, and also how much money Google, for one, is throwing around to acquire network knowledge and experience.
It's hard to understand why more telcos aren't capitalizing on their current network advantages while their window of opportunity is still wide open. To help us understand, we'd like those of you involved with cloud-services planning, development or support within a service-provider organization to share with us: your company's thinking around cloud services; the cloud activities you are undertaking; the demands you are seeing from enterprise customers; and details of how you differentiate your clouds from those of your competitors. We'd like to build an up-to-date picture of service-provider cloud developments. I'll share key results of this research in a future blog.
Please take the survey at the following link: http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1308239/2013-Cloud-Evolution-Survey
Thank you in advance for your participation.
— Caroline Chappell, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading