(For sake of convenience Cloud is referred as Public Cloud in this blog)
For past few months, I noticed there’s deep sense of dilemma among Telcos on various transformational aspects, esp. when they are adopting hybrid cloud for digital transformation. Understandably this dilemma is good thing on Telcos part, but making right choices, with dilemma is not an easy task, and let me elaborate a bit further.
Telcos indeed embarked on digital transformation journey few years back. Few are ahead in the journeys, while others are just getting started. As part of the journeys, telcos need to undertake multiple journeys to transform various aspects of their entire business, be it network getting transformed or their IT or even their customer experience. Everything should or would undergo transformation, and the end goal is to build digitally transformed, more agile organization, ready to adapt and drive market to next level.
This isn’t easy goal to achieve. Its multi-year committed transformation journey, would require millions or even billions of USD, and would not only help telcos be more agile, but also earn more revenue through transformation and new value-added services portfolio but offer better overall customer experience in general.
Now coming back to dilemma, which I raised at start. To transform themselves, telcos need to build robust platforms, on top of which transformed telco would reside, build, scale their services offerings. Imagine platform is a layer of infrastructure, which is agile enough to adapt to market needs, and help telcos build their newer services on top, to cater, not only existing but newer market opportunities in long run. Now, their existing platforms, on which they built their services, including network, IT, or even bit of enterprise, aren’t agile, robust enough to take them to next level.
Indeed, they need newer platforms for sure. But what platforms they need to choose and should they adopt Cloud as Platform is a real dilemma.
Let me clarify a bit more here.
A cloud (or specifically Public Cloud) is not just a platform, but holistic (or complete) platform, which comes with offerings such as marketplace with third party & community app store, billing/metering, DC/DR, Backups, Storage, Observability, AI/MLOps Automation, Serverless and many more capabilities, with inherent mix of infinite scalability, elasticity, and resiliency. If you look at telcos existing platform, there is already infrastructure in place, a layer mix of hardware and software, very niche, proprietary, siloed one, which does offer resiliency (to some extent) but not elasticity or scalability to the extent public cloud offers.
Do Telcos need all these Public Cloud like platform features to get transformed?
I wonder the answer is yes, but not all of capabilities are must to have for them. Eventually, for a transformed telco, they might need some of them or many of them but not all. It’s overkill to adopt Cloud (or Public Cloud) as Platform. Moreover, there are concerns over cloud sovereignty, where telcos need similar offerings on-prem or within their premises.
There comes on-prem private platforms. Pls be mindful, as I’m resisting to use term private cloud. The moment you mix private platforms with private cloud, the expectations begin to escalate. When we refer to private platforms (or on-prem platforms), they simply mean platforms, which offers scalability, elasticity, and resiliency. They help to build agile services and transform organization towards more agile operations. They may or mayn’t bring cloud like capabilities such as app marketplace, billing or metering, DC/DR, Observability, Serverless, MLOps etc inherently with them. While some platform providers offer some of them, it comes as add-on. Moreover, platforms offered could be virtualized or containerised or fully managed/serverless types but, primarily they are platforms and not cloud.
When we refer to term private cloud, it brings all the above cloud offerings (public cloud offerings) into play, along with bare-bone platform stuff which otherwise a platform would offer.
You may ask, what’s difference though?
It depends on context in which you are asking this question, if you need a platform or a cloud, be it public or private. Or in other words, what’s use case for transformation? It would be the decider.
Let’s say you want to transform your network core to make it more agile and with 5G, you decided that 5G Core (entire suite of Core modules) would run on new platform or cloud, either way. If you just want to run 5G core modules on newer capable platforms, replacing older non-agile platforms, choose a platform. But if you need observability, or DC/DR or even CICD or integration with app stores or billing/metering, better choose a cloud (public cloud like offering) to support your use case. It is impractical to take a platform and expect cloud offerings and vice versa (that’s overkill gentleman).
A platform which offers scalability, elasticity and resiliency is good enough for many telco transformations use cases but not all telco transformational use cases will be well served by mere platforms or their add-on services (a complete PaaS). In many instances, you would need app stores or billing/metering or even DC/DRs or Observability or even serverless for your use case, then choosing cloud (or similar offerings) would make better sense.
Now what telcos should choose really depends on many factors including use case, budgets, timelines, roadmap or even their own vision of transformation would play a significant role in choosing between platform or cloud. Telcos need their platforms to support many use cases, and they would eventually evolve to go beyond mere connectivity providers, catering to enterprises with value added services. In those cases, private cloud would make more sense. But keep in mind that, not all telcos would have same vision of doing everything or going beyond connectivity services. With advent of 5G (& beyond 5G), there will be opportunities for them to offer many more services, but not all telcos will offer those. Imagine, every transformed telco is offering all types of services, including OTT, App, Music etc, how market will look?
In summary, every transformed telco would have different services offerings, and cloud or platforms would play a critical role in their services offerings. This is mainly because, they started with different transformational goals. If you look around telco landscape across globe, you could easily see pioneers and followers separately. But this distinction is quite vague and doesn’t stand scrutiny so let’s not say that pioneers will offer everything while followers will limit themselves to just connectivity offerings.
Now question comes, should all platforms evolve to clouds or public clouds to support transformation? Or would there be truly a private cloud offering everything of that of public cloud offerings?
I don’t see the point in this question though. I have yet to see anyone building platforms or clouds merely for telcos. They won’t. There’s always a larger play for both platform and cloud players, beyond telcos. So, what you build depends on customer needs and market demands.
The question is interesting enough to answer, because I could see platform providers are trying to build private clouds while public cloud providers are trying to build private clouds, and both are racing towards that. If you look around, enterprise or on-prem is bigger opportunity than public clouds, and those who are in business of building private on-prem platforms or private clouds, are building increasingly public cloud like offerings to enable a true private cloud for their telcos or enterprises.
Eventually, without must digressing from topic, you would see private clouds and platforms both getting transformed to more like public cloud, but it won’t be at par. The fundamental reason is their architectures are different altogether and by mere adding more capabilities won’t transform a platform into cloud or vice versa.
Telcos, if you have a vision to be truly a market leader, completely agile, go beyond connectivity and offer thousands of value-add services, either B2B or B2C, then manage them well, choosing cloud offerings makes more sense from start. But if you are exploring opportunities, transforming your core, and not looking at value added services play in longer run, choosing platforms or sticking to private platforms would make more sense from start. Eventually every telco would have hybrid multi-cloud-based architecture, but the way it evolves to that stage would decide the transformation results. Platforms aren’t Cloud and Cloud isn’t just platform but more than platforms. Let’s ensure we understand the fundamental difference and make right choices.