Microsoft Azure Monday laid out its playbook to partner with communications service providers by providing a carrier-grade platform for edge and cloud computing to help network operators realize the full potential of 5G technology.
The No. 2 cloud provider’s new Azure for Operators telco strategy is fortified by its past and current telco-related work—including its partnerships with Telstra and US operators AT&T and T-Mobile, and its development of Azure Edge Zones—and acquisitions of telco-geared software makers Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch earlier this year.
“Today starts a new chapter in our close collaboration with the telecommunications industry to unlock the power of 5G and bring cloud and edge closer than ever,” Jason Zander, executive vice president of Microsoft Azure, said in a blog post Monday.
“We‘re building a carrier-grade cloud and bringing more Microsoft technology to the operator’s edge. This, in combination with our developer ecosystem, will help operators to future-proof their networks, drive down costs and create new services and business models.”
Using Microsoft Azure and its artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning capabilities, operators will be able to automate their operations and offer new services including ultrareliable, low-latency connectivity, mixed-reality communications services, network slicing and highly scalable Internet of Things (IoT) applications to help transform industries, Zander said.
Last summer, Microsoft Azure and AT&T unveiled a multiyear strategic alliance to leverage AI and 5G using AT&T’s network and the Azure cloud platform to market integrated solutions in areas including voice, collaboration, edge, IoT, public safety and cybersecurity. Microsoft is now AT&T’s preferred cloud provider for non-network applications.
“Since that announcement, we’ve made considerable progress on our journey to become a ‘public cloud-first’ company,” Igal Elvaz, AT&T’s senior vice president of wireless, said in a statement. “Microsoft’s recent and bold acquisitions in the wireless core space will further support our long-term strategy of using public cloud for network workloads.”
In addition to AT&T, inaugural partners for Azure for Operators include systems integrators Accenture and Tech Mahindra, and Ascos, Etisalat, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel, Mavenir, Red Hat, Samsung, Telstra, Tillman Digital Cities, Verizon and VMWare.
“We want to bring, effectively, the cloud economical models to the operators and carriers,” Yousef Khalidi, corporate vice president of Azure Networking, told CRN. “Until not long ago, most of the public clouds—I‘m referring to us and the two other big ones—were mostly designed and catering for the enterprise space, and that was a 10- to 12-year journey to get us there. But if you look really at meeting the needs of the whole segment of the telecommunications sector, we did not really meet their core network needs. We definitely ran their enterprise back-office applications, line of business, CRM, etc., but not the core networks. So we realized there’s an opportunity to help our customers better here.”
To do so, Microsoft needed to have the right technology set, the right people and the right mindset to understand what those customers need to better serve their own customers, Khalidi said.
“Their needs are carrier-grade networks, software that can run mobile and wired and wireless networks,” he said. “All of us are going through an inflection point with 5G. They also have a need to introduce compute in their workloads, which is something, frankly, we understand quite well.”