Enterprise services consist of three basic capabilities: computing, storage, and connection. Traditional applications that provide computing and storage are deployed within the enterprise. Operators provide simple connectivity between enterprise branches and between the enterprise and its customers, as well as private line service between enterprise branches and voice/SMS for their customers. With the deepening of the internet and digital economy, the provision of computing and storage capabilities through low-cost and efficient cloud services is gradually accepted by enterprises. More and more enterprise applications evolve from local deployment to cloud deployment. This promotes rapid development of the cloud service market, and also requires faster, better, and more flexible network connection services. The cloud-network convergence has therefore become the basis for current digital transformation of enterprises.
Challenges from OTT
Internet companies represented by Amazon AWS and Alibaba Cloud have built core cloud capabilities based on their own internet business growth needs and have attracted enterprises to the cloud with rich enterprise applications. They have formed an oligarchic pattern in the public cloud service market and threatened the operator's private line market. At the end of 2017, Alibaba released the "cloud backbone" and built 110+ cloud POPs around the world. In 2018, it launched the edge intelligent access gateway and built a cloud-network convergence system combining network over cloud (Luoshen), intercloud network (Zhinv) and cloud access network (Chang'e). The system can build up a multi-regional global network in minutes and connect with hybrid cloud to create a smart cloud network with enterprise scale and communication capabilities.
IT vendors represented by Aryaka and Cisco have launched their SD-WAN solutions. They work as another OTTs that have impact on the operator's private line market. SD-WAN service providers (SPs) can lease operators' physical private line resources to build a global network. They offer convenient on-demand WAN services through the SDN technology, helping enterprises achieve complex networking with multi-branch and multi-cloud connectivity. They also offer IT value-added services such as WAN acceleration and firewalls. They can get the connection bonus with cost-effective on-demand flexible SD-WAN services delivered for enterprises.
Enterprise private line is the core of the operator's enterprise market. The strategy for enterprises to access cloud can bring unprecedented opportunities to the enterprise private line market. However, faced by double impact of cloud SPs and SD-WAN SPs, operators need to change their thinking and strengthen the cloud-network convergence. With the SD-WAN concept, they can provide flexible and quality cloud-network converged services for enterprise users.
Key to Challenges of OTT: Leveraging Network Advantages to Promote Cloud-Network Convergence
Pure cloud services delivered by telecom operators can no longer compete with a variety of SaaS services and easy user experience offered by cloud SPs. The operators' core advantage still lies in network connection, so the key for operators to address the challenges of OTT is to leverage network advantages to promote cloud-network convergence. In this way, operators can provide enterprises with one-stop, agile, flexible, on-demand and intelligent cloud-network converged service capabilities.
Building a Unified Cloud-Network Operation System to Deliver Cloud-Network Converged Services
One-stop cloud-network service is the basic need for enterprises to access the cloud. However, in order to concentrate resources and settle accounts independently, operators usually set up independent cloud companies to operate external cloud services separately. This leads to the separation of cloud and network operations, and customers cannot be provided with unified service acceptance and provisioning processes, making fast fault location and recovery impossible. Therefore, the operation system should be transformed to support one-point acceptance, one-stop provisioning, and unified operation and maintenance to enhance user experience and maximize business benefits through the promotion of cloud-network convergence.
Rearchitecting Networks for On-Demand Cloud Private Capabilities
Compared with cloud SPs and SD-WAN SPs, operators have the advantages of last mile access, wide network coverage, and access flexibility that OTT providers cannot replace. The construction mode of MAN and backbone networks also provide the basis for operators to deliver differentiated services. However, the long-term rolling construction of the operator network leads to a wide variety of network devices, complex protocols, and weak auto-provisioning and flexible adjustment capabilities. Moreover, the state of operator infrastructure assets is not clear enough, resulting in a long period of provisioning the enterprise private line. For example, the provisioning of a cross-province VPN private line requires more than 40 manual processes, and the provisioning period is as long as one to two months, resulting in poor user experience.
To provide fast and flexible cloud-network converged services, operators need to re-architect their existing rigid closed networks into cloud networks using the SDN/NFV technology. They can have their networks based on software and their network control functions deployed on cloud infrastructure. In essence, operators can implement deep cloud-network convergence. The cloud-based network rearchitecting achieves the transformation from rigid networks to software-defined elastic networks, centralized network resource management, and flexible on-demand distribution, so that operators can quickly provide flexible, on-demand cloud access private line capabilities for enterprises.
Leveraging Network Infrastructure to Build a Multi-Cloud Ecosystem
The purpose for enterprises to access the cloud is to use quality SaaS services and on-demand cheap cloud resources on the public cloud to reduce Opex. Enterprises choose quality services of different cloud SPs. Considering security and localization, they may choose to deploy some services on the private cloud, so multi-cloud has become the choice of most enterprises. Telecom operators can leverage their own advantages to connect telecom networks with cloud networks of mainstream cloud SPs, offering flexible multi-cloud connectivity for enterprises. AT&T's NetBond and DT's PLAS are the industry benchmarks for multi-cloud connectivity for enterprises.
OTT cloud services have dominated the cloud market. If telecom operators only provide cloud-network converged services on self-operated clouds, they will lose most of the customer base. Therefore, strengthening cooperation with cloud SPs for one-point access to multi-cloud is the key for operators to maintain their long-term network advantages and grasp the strategic opportunity for enterprises to access the cloud.
Building MEC to Grasp the Key to Digital Transformation
The enterprise access to the cloud involves three stages: web customer service system access to the cloud, enterprise management information system access to the cloud, and core production system access to the cloud. Digital transformation will drive the enterprise core production system to access the cloud, and put forward relatively high requirements for reliability, latency and security. This will inevitably promote rapid development of edge computing.
Though edge computing is still in the initial stage of development, cloud SPs and operators see edge computing as the next most promising market. By deploying MECs at the network edge, operators can fully utilize their widely distributed infrastructure resources, resident customer services, and efficient collaboration capabilities at the cloud and network edge to take competitive advantages in the edge computing market and to create an intelligent information node that integrates communications, cloud, intelligence and applications. The intelligent information node is also the key entrance for telecom operators to start digital transformation in the industry.
Enabling AI to Provide Intelligent Cloud-Network Convergence Service
Customer experience is where OTT providers is generally superior to operators. It is imperative for operators to introduce AI to enhance automation and intelligence of their cloud-network convergence. Real-time insight into customer scenario needs, on-demand customization, and uninterrupted service are the ultimate goal of cloud-network convergence, which requires long-term continuous evolution. The first and basic step is to strengthen cloud-network data collection, perform real-time awareness of cloud-network operation status, and make cloud-network resources visible. The second step is to build an automatic closed loop and introduce the AI model to achieve dynamic resource allocation, intelligent traffic adjustment, and rapid fault demarcation and self-healing. The final step is to introduce the intent engine based on the automatic closed loop to provide real-time insight into customer scenario needs and fulfill dynamic deployment and optimization of cloud-network convergence. In the end, cloud-network resources and customer scenarios can be seamlessly connected to offer optimal user experience.
The national strategy for enterprises to access the cloud opens up a broader market space for cloud-network convergence. In the face of competition and cooperation with OTT providers, the key to operators is to strength and optimize their networks, deliver smart cloud-network converged services close to customers, and expand the cloud-network convergence ecosystem with their networks as the basis. In this way, operators can firmly grasp the market opportunities brought about by digital transformation of enterprises.
Deep cloud-network convergence, digital transformation, challenges of OTT, on-demand cloud private capabilities, unified cloud-network operations