With 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) dominating industry conversation, telcos and other communications service providers (CSPs) are embracing network function virtualization and the cloud, with a software-defined architecture. But to truly participate in the cloud economy, compete effectively with OTT rivals, and be positioned to capture the rich opportunities presented by 5G and IoT, CSPs will need to expand their focus beyond their own telco cloud. That means embarking on a three-cloud strategy that also wraps in private and public cloud infrastructure and will allow them to take the best advantage of the coming opportunities.
In this interview, Honore’ LaBourdette, vice president of global market development for VMware’s Telco Business Group, shares her insights on the future of CSP network function virtualization, and how it will be influenced by 5G and the IoT.
Honore’ LaBourdette: It is absolutely critical that they evolve to a software-defined model in order to participate in the new cloud economy. Non-traditional disruptors in the over-the-top (OTT) space are offering rich, customer-centric content and experiences, and to be competitive, CSPs need to overhaul their infrastructure, applications, and business model in order to deliver these same kinds of apps in a cost-effective way. Moving to software-defined infrastructure is essential as the cloud continues to evolve. Initially it was either a private or public cloud; it’s now evolving into a multi-cloud world that’s driving demand for new, flexible apps and services delivered with cloud-based economics.
SDxCentral: What role does 5G and IoT play in the virtualization of service provider networks?
There is an important interdependency between IoT and 5G; and both are catalysts for the changes that CSPs need to make now to successfully thrive in a multi-cloud world.
The interdependency can be perceived differently depending on the lens. Through the 5G lens, it’s a step-change when it comes to capacity, and it will be the technology that allows virtualization to extend from the core to the edge to the device. In that way, it will support a move to things like micro-data centers enabled at the edge with low latency, which will be the only way to support massive networks of sensor data that needs to be processed and analyzed in real-time.
Conversely, 5G is required if CSPs plan to address the requirements for supporting IoT as we look to the future. Today, IoT services are being delivered on traditional 3G or 4G LTE networks, but those use cases are limited. Examples are connected cars, or a rapid-response video surveillance app. There are also a lot of mobile medical IoT use cases deployed today. However, if you fast-forward to two, three or four years out, you’ll see all of the devices and sensors connected to the network, generating vast amounts of data coupled with the fact that video has become the primary application for network capacity—all this is driving the need for 5G.
SDxCentral: How can VMware help CSPS make the transformation to the cloud?
HLB: As the pioneers of virtualization, the software-defined transition that CSPs are making right now fits squarely in our wheelhouse. We’ve taken the expertise, innovation, and technology that have been keys to our success over the past 20 years, and we’ve applied it to the CSP environment. About 96 percent of CSPs today already use VMware for their private clouds and we are now helping them efficiently, cost effectively and securely extend that cloud success to public and telco clouds.
Leveraging a common platform for all three clouds allows them to seamlessly offer services that traverse all of those clouds, with automation, orchestration, and built-in security for maximum flexibility, economies of scale and complete operational visibility. If a CSP can deliver services from its own infrastructure while leveraging the economies of the public cloud and making good on the opportunity to converge IT infrastructure and its line-of-business services, that’s very powerful. It can be a world of “hybridity,” where they’re actually going to participate with other providers across different cloud environments.
SDxCentral: We’ve talked about the need for CSPs to transition their networks from hardware-based to a software-driven architecture, what else is required for them to be successful in a multi-cloud world?
HLB: Fundamentally, they need to make a cultural shift, meaning they need to be informed and competent about what’s required to tackle the big issue of moving from hardware to software, and philosophically they need to be willing to make the hard decisions associated with that change, in terms of necessary organization, processes and skill sets.
The customers that we’ve seen have the greatest success are those that approach the process in a true partnership mindset rather than through the lens of a traditional telco/vendor relationship. It’s important to choose a provider that is proven in the market and is going to allow them to achieve operational and cost reductions today, while providing a path for a 5G future that enables innovation and allows them to be dominant players in the cloud economy. While 5G deployments are fledgling, we expect that we’ll start to see these services cross the chasm and proliferate as soon as 2020.
SDxCentral: How can service providers play a part in vertical apps with the rise of IoT?
CSPs have a unique and enormous opportunity that differs from their competitors in the fact that they own the last-mile facilities and have customer access and influence across enterprise, consumer and mobility. This is a tremendous advantage for CSPs going forward, as they can deploy mobile services at the edge of the last mile, create micro-clouds, and extend those distributed cloud services all the way to the end-user device. That becomes an enormous differentiator when we get to 5G and true IoT deployments.
Today, CSPs would need to send traffic from heavy data apps all the way back to a central cloud for analysis, and then trombone that analysis back to the device. For example, it’s simply not practical with today’s technology to support data-intensive, high-resolution video data on a real-time basis for government surveillance. The video streams wouldn’t meet the governmental criteria for picture quality for what’s admissible in court. In the future, this kind of service running in a CSP micro-cloud, which they can monetize, will be ultra-low-latency and capable of delivering bandwidth-intensive, 4K video. This is just one example of how a CSP could participate in the cloud economy with industry-specific applications. It’s truly the tip of the iceberg and I believe we’re on the precipice of 5G & IoT becoming as innovative and disruptive as the industrial revolution.