A journey towards the multi-cloud

24 July 2019 | Gareth Wilmer

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The ever-increasing demand for rapid connections to the cloud means telcos are having to become more agile in connecting customers up to clouds.

This is in light of the continued inexorable rise of the cloud. Although public cloud will grow faster, both public and private workloads are set to continue rising, at a compound annual rate of 28% and 11% respectively, according to Cisco figures. Meanwhile, 85% of companies surveyed in a recent IBM report were already operating in multi-cloud environments.

Amid these trends, telecoms carriers are creating products that facilitate links with the major cloud service providers (CSPs) and deepening their relationships with them to help fulfil the need for multi-cloud environments, ensuring they can offer customers a comprehensive line-up of options. This is also linked to the need to move towards virtualisation and automated, distributed networks.

Customers are demanding a “much more dynamic and agile environment” in which they can interact in real time with their network services, says Vincent English, CEO at network-as-a-service (NaaS) provider Megaport. And he believes this necessitates partnerships to get there.

In the telecoms industry as a whole, he says, connecting up to the CSPs can still be cumbersome in the early stages of the move towards end-to-end automation and virtualisation. He thinks this will ultimately improve, but that in the meantime Megaport has the tools to give partners seamless, rapid connectivity.

To do this, it uses a software-defined network (SDN) built on a physical network that connects over 465 data centres globally. Megaport can enable multi-cloud connectivity via relationships it has with major CSPs including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM, Google and Alibaba.

“What we have works, is already there, and gets customers up and running quickly so they don’t have that huge capex cycle, which may take a bit of time,” says English. “We have a proven ecosystem of CSPs and a global network.”

Recent partnerships that the company has struck up with players such as HGC, NTT Malaysia and Orixcom to help improve cloud access for carrier and enterprise customers attest to such benefits. He foresees increased traction for quickly connecting up among more localised carriers too, such as with Megaport’s recently announced partnership with US Midwest telecoms provider Bluebird Network.

Partnerships like these are good for the whole industry because they help improve the density of connections, adds English, aiding to meet the demands of developing technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI. “Connectivity is the cornerstone of having any of that work.”

Greater agility

Bill Lambertson, director of cloud industry solutions for the telco industry at IBM, reiterates the need for carriers to be more agile in the cloud world and offer differentiated services on top, something he believes partnerships can help with better than past attempts to go it alone.

“Telcos have traditionally invested in long-tail kinds of businesses, but the world of cloud really doesn’t allow you to have that time to be successful,” he says.

He adds that carriers also need skills on the systems integration (SI) side, something that a CSP such as IBM can again step in and help with.

Establishing partnerships that are more than mere reseller arrangements provides a significant opportunity for carriers, says Lambertson: “It gives the telco stickiness and it provides added value to business customers.”

IBM recently entered into a strategic agreement with Vodafone Business that will see customers provided with open, flexible technologies they need to integrate multiple clouds and prepare for the coming digital transformation enabled by AI, 5G, edge and SDN.

Additional services could also include blockchain and the type of enhanced security needed in a multi-cloud hybrid environment. “Telcos are in a position where they can deliver an end-to-end secure solution, and ensure compliance and data privacy for their customers,” says Lambertson.

At CenturyLink, Dave Shacochis, vice president of hybrid IT product management, says the company can add value to its cloud services through the threat intelligence it can access via its extensive global network. “CenturyLink’s investments with the different cloud service providers are really around creating adaptive connectivity paths to those cloud environments and then looking for opportunities where we can help in the area of IT agility, managed services and the system management realm, as well as with connected security,” he says.

“It’s amazing how much the industry has shifted,” says Shacochis, from a more ad hoc integration between enterprises and public clouds to more secure, reliable, direct connectivity aided by carriers like CenturyLink.

5G and the edge

The dawn of 5G and growing focus on edge services are also set to affect the landscape between carriers and CSPs.

At performance assurance company Accedian, chief strategy officer Richard Piasentin says the potential for network slicing with 5G can bring extra opportunities between CSPs and telcos by enabling carriers to offer dedicated, secure “slices” reserved for particular mission- critical applications to third parties, improving customer experience.

“We’re very active with carrier customers in talking about what that looks like,” says Piasentin, with the company looking into how to implement that with them.

CSP partnerships are, meanwhile, set to be even more important as networks become more distributed in the move towards 5G, believes Lambertson. “The battleground is moving to the edge, and many telcos are acknowledging that they can’t win that battle alone,” he says. “They want to move up the stack and need partners to do it.”

For meeting needs at the edge, some carriers are building partnerships with edge data centre players that wrap in services from the telco enabling connections to major cloud providers. Telia Carrier, for instance, last September teamed up to offer its Cloud Connect service with edge data centre provider TierPoint in 25 facilities across the US.

New products

Telia Carrier launched Cloud Connect itself a year ago, one of an array of cloud products carriers have been launching and moves they have been making to help boost customer connections to providers such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google and IBM. For Telia Carrier, the service was also aimed at opening up these connections directly to enterprises, and wholesale customers.

There is room now for Telia Carrier to grow the product by adding more clouds, such as second-tier, third-tier, public and governmental clouds, says Mattias Fridström, vice president and chief evangelist at the company. “There are a lot of clouds to add,” he says. “We don’t want to influence an enterprise decision on what cloud to use. Whatever cloud they want to use, we will be there.”

Meanwhile, Deutsche Telekom Global Carrier last year debuted its Secure Cloud Connect service for wholesale and enterprise customers in a bid to make it easier for customers to connect up to major cloud providers via a private connection.

The service, aimed at offering a secure cloud environment for mission-critical applications, enables customers to reach 40 CSPs via direct relationships.

DT Global Carrier, which says the service has seen rapid uptake, is now striking more direct partnerships with CSPs rather than those it provides through its relationship via a data centre provider. This helps reduce process complexity and saves on costs, says the company. Having already previously struck direct partnerships with other leading cloud providers, DT Global Carrier has now also struck a deal with Google.

“Secure Cloud Connect is quite innovative,” says Jasmina Cehajic, head of product management for access and transport services at DT Global Carrier. “We have seen a very positive response over the past year. Customers are extremely pleased with the ease of set-up and the cost savings, as well as our ability to enable their multi-cloud strategy.”

Time for a change

Carriers have much to gain by evolving how they operate as they team up with CSPs, says David Behr, group chief digital officer at Africa-focused Liquid Telecom. Compared to the CSP ethos of real-time delivery and low barriers to entry, telcos tend to have a higher entry cost and longer delivery times, he says. “They need to start thinking more like cloud providers and understand that software is literally taking over the world.”

There is a similar need in Africa to work with CSPs, where he believes Liquid Telecom is uniquely positioned to help. The company has recently been expanding the availability of Microsoft Azure across the continent.

“One of the biggest barriers to cloud adoption in Africa is high-quality, reliable and affordable connectivity,” says Behr. “This cannot be solved by the CSPs alone, especially last mile. We need to work with them to match their future expansion plans with our own.”

And carriers are putting in place strategies to enhance their knowledge of cloud products. Ian Massingham, director of developer technology and evangelism at AWS points to Verizon’s investment in AWS-specific training facilities known as “dojos” to help employees boost their knowledge of the CSP’s technologies and learn how to innovate quickly and at scale.

And with the growing need for carriers to automate networks, Massingham flags up the company’s recently unveiled Outposts offering to help enable seamless hybrid cloud. “AWS Outposts could provide a potential mechanism for carriers to embed AWS resources directly within their network for additional use cases, such as network functions virtualisation [NFV],” he says.

To facilitate the transition to new cloud models, industry body the MEF is meanwhile helping push things forward through the development of its framework for so-called MEF 3.0 services that will aid the move towards a more on-demand, cloud-centric experience.

The MEF is talking to carriers to examine what the future value chain will look like, with a need to make “frictionless” what can be highly complex cloud models between the different types of provider and as carriers connect to more clouds, says Pascal Menezes, CTO at the MEF. By developing this, he believes, carriers will have more of an opportunity to add the value needed in the cloud market of the future.

“Communications services providers worldwide have to think of value-added products that go beyond just connectivity, and add on to that greater stickiness that creates more value between the cloud providers and them,” he concludes.

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