IBM: Removing the barriers
Big Interview

IBM: Removing the barriers


Marisa Viveros, IBM’s vice president of strategy and solutions for global telecommunications and media, speaks to Natalie Bannerman about how the company is innovating for its telco clients

For those paying attention, 2020/21 has seen IBM venture deeper and deeper into the world of telecoms with a number of new cloud-based offerings alongside the expansion of its automation business.

Leading much of this work is Marisa Viveros, vice president of strategy and solutions for global telecommunications and media.

“One of the most exciting parts of my job is that I have a team of engineers at my disposal that do a lot of the integration, pre-testing and combining the different components to come up with the best solutions for our clients,” says Viveros.

Reflecting on a turbulent 18 months, Viveros and her team felt that Covid-19 had sped up the digital transformation of its undecided clients – which in and of itself has led to the need for greater autonomy.

“Over the last 18 months we’ve seen an acceleration of the digitisation in the front end, in the network as well as in the back end. As a result, automation becomes a key component of that digitisation,” she says.

Interestingly, Viveros believes that another type of major transformation is on the horizon, with telcos readying to take on the big hyperscalers by capturing their share of new revenue streams.

“They’re also having a lot of challenges with the hyperscalers, where the telcos are making a lot of network investments while the hyperscalers are ripping off that investment. So, they’re definitely gearing up to capture new areas.”

What IBM has witnessed from its telco customers over the last 18 months, due to Covid, is often 3x, 5x and in some cases 7x its normal data usage, particularly from some of the northern European telcos.

Despite all the data drivers, video more than the growing gaming space remains the biggest consumer, with no plans of slowing down.

“Video is primarily driving uptake with streaming services like Netflix using up more consumption than anything else, even more than gaming,” says Viveros. “Once we get more into more moderately complex gaming it’ll definitely start taking some of that video bandwidth.”

Previously video was considered a type of luxury, “but now it’s for everyone,” she explains. “The fact that they always build for overconsumption is really what helped telcos survive throughout this time.”

Despite all these network demands and the need to maintain business continuity, the work in rolling out 5G has continued at pace.

“When Covid hit, I thought the deployment of 5G was going to slow down but, on the contrary, all of the network transformation has accelerated because of the network consumption.”

This aside, Viveros says that the needs of the telcos remain the same, just amplified by the pandemic. That is, to engage with clients in an agile manner, build out their networks in preparing for things like 5G in a cost-effective way and to transform packet processing.

On the 5G subject, Viveros explains that: “No one is waiting for 5G to be fully completed and customers are already modernising their 4G/LTE. The migration path into 5G is being done by breaking the operational models or single vertical integrated solutions and going into an open hybrid cloud.”

This in turn feeds into the need to transform packet processing by “migrating applications to the cloud, building that platform, and getting themselves prepared to leverage new revenue streams in different verticals”.

One of the more recent announcements from the company in line with this demand was the launch of its IBM Cloud for telecommunications – an open, hybrid cloud architecture designed to help telecommunications providers address the challenges of the industry.

Speaking to Viveros on the development of this offering, she says it was born out of a direct need of its financial services and banking customers.

“It was critical to build a cloud that will allow the banks to be fully compliant while offloading all of their workloads in a secure environment. So, our vision was to take that as a base and build upon that,” she says.

“The main differentiation of this cloud is that we are simplifying all of the parts of the ecosystem that they use. Plus, having that assurance that they can rely on the cloud and all of the legislative things are handled was what made it viable to survive in this challenging time.”

To date, the IBM Cloud for Telecommunications has 42 partners, including major vendors like Nokia, Samsung and Cisco, all helping to develop the solution to meet client needs and so they can confidently adopt the offering. Built on IBM Cloud Satellite, and leveraging Red Hat OpenShift, clients can deploy IBM Cloud services anywhere.

Aside from the inherent differences between the IBM Cloud for Telecommunications and its contemporaries, Viveros says that it is the built-in security and privacy of the data that sets them apart – in fact it is fundamental.

“Unlike our competitors, many of whom leverage your data to build their own business, IBM does not do that. So that security and trust is passed on to your customers because you can guarantee that nobody’s going to be looking at that data,” she adds.

In keeping with the subject of security, Viveros enthuses that it is a topic “dear to my heart”, largely due to her prior role as vice president of cyber security.

That was not only when her passion for the subject was ignited, but it was when IBM put security at the heart of its operations.

“About six years ago we put in place a strategy with security as always central to our offerings. We created a security framework that included the infrastructure security, data security and application security, as well as the monitoring of all the ongoing process of the IT system,” she explains.

Though, at the time, each business unit was working in silos with its security integration, “we brought it all together as a single organisation and started to build a strategy and a product to deliver to the client, and that made a huge difference for us in the market.”

As this centralised approach has continued to mature, Viveros says that all the company’s systems deal with security from the bottom up, in all the layers of its products. Coupled with the fact that all of IBM’s developers continue to apply security into their processes, this has been the standout for its customers.

“We also continue to innovate AI, a lot of data processing goes into making things more automated and that is fuelled by intelligence,” adds Viveros.

Circling back to our discussion about 5G, according to Viveros, AI will be coupled with the technology to “innovate faster”, with two primary approaches being taken. First, they are modernising the core; and second, they are making it cloud-based.

“Open RAN will continue to be huge, with telcos like BT and Rostelecom, Vodafone and Telefonica already signed up, because they see that as a way that they can innovate faster, they can deploy faster being software-based and with AI playing into what is called the radio interface protocols,” she adds.

But it is about more than just connectivity. Viveros says: “It’s going to allow the telcos to enter the world of enterprise as they start to look at 5G to improve their business processes and the connectivity of all of that equipment.”

Additionally, in the long term, she says that there will be benefits due to the cost reduction in basic hardware and software being used until the economies of scale are achieved.

“Most importantly, the operation of that network will be much easier because all of the inputs are software-based so you can constantly make modifications as needed,” she says.

With IBM Cloud for Telecommunications having been built on IBM Cloud Satellite, it enables hybrid multi-cloud capabilities with borderless limitations. Once again, Viveros says, it was created “directly linked to the needs of the telco”, as you need computing across all the different layers of the network.

“The IBM Cloud Satellite allows the telcos, or any other organisation, to deploy the cloud with ease because this solution is managed with all of the processes done for you from any location. You have the freedom to place more applications without being an expert in cloud – we’ve removed the barrier to this type of technology adoption.”

In addition, the cloud can collect the data that is being captured and processed at the edge instead of traversing that data all the way through the core, into the central cloud. This in turn creates greater accessibility, the ability to process data, to place an AI algorithm at the edge, as is possible with this solution.

“We have done this in a number of pilots with some of our clients. Some of them are deploying them in the UK, they are deploying SD-WAN, firewalls, etc and are already seeing the benefits,” adds Viveros.

The 12-month outlook for Viveros and the team is to “make IT automation much more effective”.

“Digital engagement, the front office and back-end automation, as well as transformation of the network, is the mandate right now,” she explains.

Doubling down on its automation efforts, the company has recently completed the acquisitions of Turbonomic and myInvenio, underscoring its commitment as a key priority.

“Another big priority is making sure that we propagate and amplify our deployment of the open platform,” says Viveros. “So RedHat OpenShift on OpenStack deployed everywhere, from the core of the network all the way to the edge, all the way to the front edge, with some new releases in the works.”

On a personal note, Viveros has her eyes set on sustainability for both companies and clients.

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