I may be new at VMware, but I’m not new to the industry – I was actively involved with VMware during its first decade of its operation, when I was with EMC. In fact, I was part of VMware’s ‘Journey to the Cloud’ messaging effort, which inspired customers seeking to make the move to the cloud. At that time, cloud providers, now known as hyperscalers, were pitching the benefits of a utility-based computing approach with the promise of endless elasticity. The concept was easy to understand and pitched at a price point that made enterprise IT heads turn. For the next several years after that, the economics of cloud continued be a hot topic for customers who have made the leap and started to reap the benefits the ‘software defined data center’.
Even today, the hyperscaler narrative hasn’t changed very much, it is still much of the same utility play. As with traditional utilities, such as electricity providers, customers find themselves frustrated with limited options, higher prices than expected and very little they can do when their utility isn’t working as advertised.
The word utility is synonymous with service and in terms of technology, network connectivity is a service that many see as a commoditized utility. Historically, communication service providers (CSPs) have focused on offering connectivity, it’s what they do… Over the years, it has become faster, more reliable, and coverage has improved, but with each network evolution, connectivity has more or less remained the same. Think about it, CSPs spend vast resources on building new network connectivity as their core asset, even though the market is fiercely competitive, and differentiation is tough, and margins are thin as CSPs have launched unlimited plans. With 5G, CSPs have made massive investments upfront on new spectrum and they are in the midst of deploying their next-generation networks, based on cloud-native architectures, however many are still thinking purely in terms of connectivity.
If failure is not an option, then differentiation is paramount. CSPs must monetize new services to recoup their investments. In order to do so, we need to get to a place where we’re not thinking like utilities. The good news is that 5G can absolutely get us there—if we’re willing to take advantage of what it brings to the table: Openness. Cloud-native methodologies. Flexibility to add value-added services on top of connectivity.
VMware is perfectly positioned to help CSPs capture this moment and capitalize the opportunity. Unlike anyone else in this space, VMware provides the “5G OS”—a central nervous system for 5G. We give CSPs a consistent horizontal platform that extends from core to cloud to customer to facilitate real digital transformation. With VMware, CSPs can be more agile in how they deliver new services—plugging in new capabilities, driving new efficiencies, and continuously deploying infrastructure as it is needed. We’re helping CSPs play a larger role in the evolving ecosystem for digital services—and leave the utility model behind for good.
Whose cloud is it anyways?
If we’re going to break out of a utility mindset, we have to broaden our horizons beyond connectivity. We have to stop spending so much time thinking about the plumbing, with the host of undifferentiated underlying technologies in the CSP infrastructure and instead focus on the innovation we can deliver on top. That’s exactly what VMware does—and has been doing for years. We provide a telco cloud platform that enables CSPs to modernize, move to the next G, and monetize value-added services that they seek to deliver.
The most revolutionary thing VMware did, almost two decades ago now, was to anonymize compute hardware. If you were in enterprise IT, you used to have to think a lot about the physical servers running your business applications. Today, for all intents and purposes, those servers are now basically interchangeable.
In the future, I see VMware making the cloud itself just as anonymous. Our Telco Cloud portfolio provides that 5G OS to facilitate new kinds of interactions with the applications running on your network, while anonymizing everything underneath. By abstracting the underlying infrastructure, you gain:
- More choice: In the same way the market for IT hardware has evolved, the piece parts underlying your network become basically interchangeable. You can use network functions from dozens of vendors in your 5G network without worrying about how they all fit together – because we have done the hard work of validating for CSPs.
- More agility: When everything below the interaction layer is anonymized, you can choose any cloud as your fabric of choice for compute, storage, and underlying physical network transport. While this approach gives you great improvements to scalability, you also retain a common plane for management, operations, and security which improve efficiencies through automation.
- More efficiency: Internally, the low-level details of how individual network functions work don’t really matter anymore. Instead, you’re focusing on how you manage, monitor, and assure amazing customer experiences for a growing portfolio of 5G and edge applications.
Making Openness Work for Your Business
5G opens up CSP networks—a breath of fresh air that’s long overdue. Industry initiatives like the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) Alliance reimagine the previously monolithic RAN as a heterogeneous ecosystem for any vendor’s standards-aligned technology. This increases competition, fuels innovation, and enables both old players and new to treat the network as brand-new territory. Suddenly, new innovators in this space—Parallel Wireless, Altiostar, Mavenir, and others—are making big bets on open CSP ecosystems and building a thriving community of vendors to drive innovation.
Of course, that heterogeneity adds new complexity that CSPs, who’ve historically outsourced large portions of the network to their vendors, have never had to contend with. Here again, VMware is well positioned to help. We can facilitate open ecosystems while providing the safety net that comes with backing from a major global vendor.
Our Telco Cloud Platform, for example, includes a telco-ready version of VMware Tanzu which enhances open source cloud-native technologies like Kubernetes by hardening them for CSP-scale deployments. Delivered pre-integrated and fully supported, this solution sits within the framework we provide for multivendor network solutions to work together in a cohesive way. Then, our Ready for Telco Cloud ecosystem lets you plug in pre-validated, ready-to-deploy network functions from dozens of vendors. You can build the network you want to build, for the price you want to pay, and achieve the right margin between cost and potential profit.
Let VMware Join You on This Journey
This isn’t the first time CSPs have tried to broaden their scope beyond connectivity. Traditional network equipment providers (NEPs) have had years to help solve these problems and haven’t been able to do it. Which shouldn’t be surprising: their business is built around making you care more about the underlying infrastructure blob, not less. Hyperscalers aren’t the full answer either, as they’re likely to focus on making sure your customers are using their cloud, not freeing them to use any cloud they choose. This is akin to buying a car and being restricted to get your gas from a specific gas station brand, that is both inflexible and impractical.
If we’re going to see different results, we’ll need to stop thinking like utilities. VMware—a company that made its name abstracting away underlying complexity and helping businesses add value on top—is the right partner to help you do it. Look at it this way: 5G networks are intentionally disaggregated, with network functions broken up into smaller pieces, often from multiple vendors. The level of intricacy involved in validating that all those pieces work together, that they won’t create security gaps, that they can be managed and monitored in a consistent way, is enormous.
Who in the marketplace has dealt with anything like that before? I can think of one company. VMware has hundreds of thousands of customers, thousands of partners, relying on a vast web of interoperating technologies and vendors. Abstracting away gory infrastructure details so businesses can focus on what matters? That’s just what we do. I can’t wait to see what we do together next.
To learn more about the different ways is helps CSPs around the world transform, read this eBook of customer stories.