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The bold and the brownfield: the true state of telco cloud-native adoption

Cloud-native is still very much a work in progress our main takeaway from 5G Asia 2019, part of TECHXLR8

“Where would you say we are today in terms of our industry’s journey to cloud native networks?” This was the provocative opening question from James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst at Heavy Reading to The Journey to Cloud-Native panel during 5G Asia 2019. 5G Asia was part of TECHXLR8 Asia, along with IoT Asia, Network Virtualization and SDN Asia, and The AI Summit, among others.

The panel included Patrick Ostiguy, Accedian’s Founder and Executive Chairman, Caroline Chan from Intel, and Marc Price from MATRIXX Software. 

James Crawshaw (left) of Heavy Reading moderated the panel with Patrick Ostiguy (Accedian), Marc Price (MatriX Software), and Caroline Chan (Intel)

Patrick, not one to ever be referred to as a wallflower, replied: “Day 0, for networks not born in the cloud.”

In our industry, we are used to the ebb and flow of the hype cycle (another reason to move quickly past the buzzwords above so as to not induce your buzzword allergies or acronym afflictions!). We are still recovering from the trials and errors of network functions virtualization (NFV) and trying to realize the benefits of fully-virtualized and programmable networks.

When it comes to cloud-native, we in the telecom industry—service providers and vendors—are very much in an early experimental stage with transforming monolithic builds into decomposed services and fully-operational microservices implementations. 

As we figure out what works and doesn’t, comparisons and concepts emerge that we might not have anticipated.  

Greenfield vs. brownfield cloud-native operations

For example, Intel’s Caroline Chan brought up an interesting point about brownfield networks versus greenfield, referring to the vast contrast between the journey to cloud-native of operators with brownfield networks, and the very different journeys of those starting with the proverbial clean slate—greenfield operators like Rakuten in Japan and DISH in the U.S.

Greenfield operators are taking the bold steps towards cloud-native networks, creating a blueprint based on their trials and tribulations, as well as what’s worked. These lessons learned will be useful to any operator trying to drive the cloud economics and OPEX savings promised by these architectures. 

What should you do if you’re getting started on the cloud-native journey and you are operating a brownfield network with millions of subscribers relying on you for great customer experiences without interruption? Patrick Ostiguy offered this tip: Create a container cluster or next-gen stack on the side if you will that allows you to 1) maintain existing business and 2) experiment and push innovation forward to the networks of the future. Avoid being shackled by your existing successful network and operations. Perhaps here today, gone tomorrow.

It’s no longer the big beating the small but the fast beating the slow.

Eric Pearson, CIO of International Hotel Group

According to our panelists, with static networks it takes on average six months to introduce a new network update, a timeline that won’t cut it in the new economy. That snail’s pace is doomed when up against examples like Starhub’s Giga!, a fully digital mobile service provider which, from inception to market introduction, only took four months to launch a whole new service provider. Hmmm.

These types of sub-brand service providers have also been referred to as MVNO killers, but that is a whole other story.

The need for fast innovation is a matter involving technology, business strategies, and operational changes.  

Cloud native flattens the world between telcos and enterprises

Along those lines, Caroline Chan talked about bringing CIOs to the table in cloud-native application discussions. This is interesting for Accedian, as a software vendor serving both the telecommunications space and enterprises across a vast array of industries. 

Intel is currently working with a number of global hotel brands and property management systems to use cloud-native offerings for brand management and for creating customer intimacy across their large global chains. The ability to use these cloud-native technologies to create seamless digital experiences and take control of how end users are viewing these brands, regardless of the customer’s location, has been extremely lucrative in the case of one massive hotel chain who is using Intel products and services to nurture brand loyalty as they aggressively grow and add other competing hotel chains under their own umbrella.

Speaking the same language and having similar cloud-native and DevOps approaches is important for service providers relying on revenues from enterprises migrating to cloud IT architectures. Similarly, the key to future success may very well be the ability to develop services capable of connecting enterprises with end users/consumers. 

Another consideration for success in a cloud native environment? Observability. I think that we would all agree that understanding how end users are experiencing a service is important today. Monitoring the quality of experience of hybrid architectures is a (solvable) challenge today, so imagine the added complexity in a microservices environment. A little more spice is added to the plot!

A change of focus is needed here to avoid risks to the bottom line, especially in the long-term. 

Cloud-native or bust?

Although every network is different, service providers need to take bold overall steps to reverse the downward slope of ARPU. Learn from the hyperscale players, and those greenfield cloud native networks of Rakuten and DISH, who push the boundaries and are always stepping forward, one cluster at a time.

Marc Price from MatrixX made a bold prediction: “Telcos will be unrecognizable again in a very short while.” Cloud-native or bust? 

Ecstatic Accedians accepting the Best Network Automation Technology award

We need to “skate towards where the puck is going, the end goal.” (Bet you can guess who said that one?) 

Cloud-native for the win!

Thanks again to TECHXLR8 and 5G Asia, and all of our customers and partners who came to visit at the event. You made it a great show! Thank you also to the panel of analysts who chose Accedian for the Best Network Automation Technology Award! We are extremely honored and humbled to be among such a notable list of vendors.