February 28, 2022
Building on its acquisition of AT&T’s Network Cloud technology, Microsoft has revealed significant additions to its Azure for Operators venture. The company introduced Azure Operator Distributed Services Sunday on the eve of the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.
The enhanced platform brings the AT&T Network Cloud and 5G technology, which Microsoft acquired last June, into Azure for Operators. Microsoft has since moved the AT&T Network Cloud organization and integrated the technology into Azure for Operators. Microsoft launched Azure for Operators in September 2020, a major effort promising to use Azure to create a carrier-grade cloud to operate private and public 5G and LTE networks.
Azure Operator Distributed Services, the next version of the Azure for Operators platform, consists of the AT&T Network Cloud technology it acquired last year. Microsoft said it has since migrated the AT&T Network Cloud to Azure, and it now runs in the Microsoft cloud.
Set to roll out in the coming months, Azure Operator Distributed Services will provide an enhanced hybrid cloud platform. It will provide a common management plane for Azure Arc, Azure CI/CD DevOps, Azure Security and Azure PaaS services. Telcos and their partners can run Azure services on enterprise customers’ premises, in operator managed edge or near-edge nodes. Also, the new platform will be available in Azure regions.
Microsoft’s Jason Zander
“With Azure Operator Distributed Services, we are delivering a carrier-grade hybrid cloud service to the market and AT&T where it can run at AT&T on-premises or on Azure public cloud,” according to the announcement by Jason Zander, Microsoft executive VP for strategic missions and technologies.
AT&T Network Cloud Migrated to Azure
Microsoft designed the new platform to support AT&T’s mobile core network. It consists of more than 60 containerized network functions (CNFs) and virtual network functions (VNFs), according to Zander. Ericsson and Nokia are among 15 vendors now running on the AT&T Network Cloud platform, he noted.
Zander added that AT&T will continue to select and manage VNFs and CNFs and their configurations to provide mobility services to its customers. But Azure Operator Distributed Services isn’t just for AT&T; it’s available for all telcos. Zander noted that telcos can create their own differentiated services. He underscored that AT&T and Microsoft have no access to whatever those providers build.
“We want to make clear that operators using Azure Operator Distributed Services continue to hold access to their customer data; Microsoft cannot access or see it,” Zander noted. “With this product, we want to enable operators to deliver new services faster and more flexibly across Azure public cloud and on-premises with common tooling and services, reducing time-to-market with a cloud-native approach.”
Azure Operator 5G Core
Telcos will be able to use the new platform for two Azure-managed “core as-a-service” options: their own 5G services and private on-premises 5G networks for customers. For the former, Microsoft will offer Azure Operator 5G Core. It’s in private preview now and set for release later this year.
“Operator networks need to handle unprecedented amounts of data as 5G unleashes a broad set of low-latency, high throughput consumer, industry 4.0, IoT, and massive machine-type communications,” Zander said. “Using Azure Operator 5G Core, operators can seamlessly deploy network workloads on Azure and manage their networks at scale with agility and cost efficiency while keeping up with the evolving demands of 5G.”
Azure Operator 5G Core is based on a distributed architecture. It provides cloud management, service automation, life cycle management, network slicing and analytics services. Telcos will be able to customize the services using the platform’s APIs and tools from Microsoft’s ISV partners, Microsoft said.
Private 5G Core
Microsoft also announced Azure Private 5G Core Service, which will let operators and systems integrators provide enterprise private 5G networks. Azure Private 5G Core falls under Microsoft’s private multi-access edge compute (MEC) offering, which provides private enterprise edge 4G and 5G networks. Now available in public preview, partners can provide these hybrid solutions on Azure Arc running on customers’ premises and at Edge locations on Azure Stack Edge.
Telcos Microsoft said are developing Azure Private 5G Core MEC offerings include AT&T, Etisalat, Swisscom and Telefonica. Global system integrator partners Microsoft identified include Accenture, Amdocs, ATOS, Capgemini, Cognizant, Harman, HCL, Intelsat, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, Tampnet, TCS and Tech Mahindra.
Other partners Microsoft said have validated solutions include ASOCS, AirSpan, CommScope, Fujitsu, Parallel Wireless and Qualcomm.
Azure Public MEC
Microsoft also is launching Azure Public MEC, which combines Azure services with telcos’ 5G networks. Designed to boost edge performance, the software giant said it is working with various telecom operators to create high-performance analytics capabilities. The first two are AT&T, announced last fall, and Singtel, with others to follow.
Also, Microsoft said it is working with several ISV partners to offer network, security and low-latency applications. Among those demonstrating their offerings at MWC include Check Point, Couchbase, Game Cloud, Summit Tech and VMware.
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