“Azure for Operators” lays out Microsoft’s strategy for telecom

This week Microsoft launched Azure for Operators.  Operators (CSPs) should take note of this announcement as much for what it portends, as for what it is today.

What is Azure for Operators?

Azure for Operators, plain and simple, is Microsoft’s blueprint and strategy for delivering its products and services to the global CSP community.  Among the key points are that:

  1. Microsoft aims to be a partner and supplier to operators, not a competitor to operators.
  2. They intend to develop aaS consumption-based revenue models.
  3. Microsoft is enhancing Azure into Azure for Operators to support the performance (latency, availability, other) needs that are unique to telecom, and is doing so in part by absorbing the “DNA” (their words) and needs of their recent telecom acquisitions – AffirmedNetworks and Metaswitch.

Azure for Operators is a work-in progress that will advance for years; yet it is already a comprehensive vision that lays out how Microsoft intends to do business with telecom; to deliver advanced technology in a ready-to-consume manner (lower risk and faster time to market than DIY, in their opinion) and to do so collaboratively.

Appledore believes that Operators being wooed must at minimum understand this capability and strongly consider both the tactical and strategic advantages and risks of utilizing Azure for Operators – and the converse risks of bypassing it and attempting to, in effect, catch up.

What is Azure for Operators…for Operators?

Azure for Operators begins with a comprehensive, actively managed hybrid cloud portfolio.

Azure for Operators is far more than Azure.  Yes, it includes the Azure cloud, with some modifications to support telecom needs, but it is also an umbrella for various layers of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, along with orchestration within its sphere.

Let’s begin with Azure proper – meaning Microsoft’s cloud resources

  • Azure public cloud, with unspecified upgrades to support some of telecom’s unique demands
  • Azure edge zones
  • Azure private edge
  • Support for Windows and Linux VMs
  • Support for Azure Kubernetes Services “AKS”
  • All orchestrated/configured by Azure Resource Manager  (ARM)and cross-edge/core management via Azure ARC

The goal here is to provide hybrid cloud capability on an aaS basis, with features and edge locations geared toward CSPs’ needs.  Interested readers can read up more in our free profile (dated yet still highly relevant)  here.

Azure for Operators adds Networking and Telecom apps

Beyond Azure IaaS/PaaS itself, Azure for Operators includes SDN networking, both internally and as assess to / interconnect with Azure for Operators.  Azure has long included SDN technology internally, that acts as the datacenter SDN component of Azure; providing direct and QoS assured connections between workloads in Azure, and between Azure locations as needed.  Beyond the Azure datacenter world, this same technology is repackaged, named Express Routes, and may be used to provide a secure, CoS managed access facility from and enterprise’ or in this case operator’s demarcation point, into whatever Azure for Operators capabilities are being used.  This effectively allows for E2E service chains or “slices” to be constructed across both operator assets and Azure based assets.

Those assets include traditional Azure capabilities – cloud based storage, compute,  and the above-mentioned SDN transport.  They also include Affirmed and Metaswitch assets (VoIP services and LTE/5G mobile cores) available in the hybrid Azure cloud(s), aaS.  Finally, and we are speculating here but on solid ground, users ought to be able to consume and chain other Azure resident applications from analytics to video compression to myriad other 3rd party and Microsoft apps, “aaS” via Microsoft’s Azure API and commerce environment.

A big, blue horse?  Could Azure for Operators be some sort of large blue, Trojan-style horse?  That of course is every operator’s fear.  Microsoft of course says “no, and look at our actions versus our competitors”. Fair enough.  Microsoft, more than many others has always been a platform company, preferring that its product go to market via third party ISVs, rather than via a giant Microsoft channel.

And then there’s this:  operators have had great difficulty digesting the world-changing perspective it takes to move from hand-built traditional networks to self-managing cloudified ones.  We have 50+ pages (really useful) on that here. So it’s in every operator’s interests to learn about Azure for operators and do one of two things:

  1. beat ’em, or
  2. join ’em

Losing to them is not a suggested option.

We will cover more on Microsoft Azure for Operators in upcoming research.  But don’t let the name “azure” limit your perspective on this. It’s Microsoft’s blueprint for telecom.

Grant Lenahan

Partner and Principal Analyst

Appledore Research