Microsoft unveils Azure for Operators in most aggressive cloud telco pursuit to date

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Microsoft has announced the launch of Azure for to begin what the company calls ‘a new chapter’ in its telecoms industry collaboration.

The move, which aims to ‘unlock the power of 5G and bring cloud and edge closer than ever’, is the most explicit move to from a hyperscale cloud provider looking to attract telcos.

It can be seen as the culmination of Microsoft’s recent acquisitions of Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch, in March and May respectively. For cloud and telecoms providers, recent collaborations are something of a win-win, combining the network capability of telco and the reach of cloud.

Alongside the Affirmed and Metaswitch technology, a large developer base and B2B partnership programs, Microsoft believes it has a ‘unique ability to support operators as they seek to monetise the capabilities of their networks.’

Jason Zander, executive vice president for Microsoft Azure, wrote of how the partnerships could be of benefit in a blog confirming the news. “We’re building a carrier-grade cloud and bringing more Microsoft technology to the operator’s edge,” wrote Zander. “This, in combination with our developer ecosystem, will help operators to future proof their networks, drive down costs, and create new services and business models.”

These new services and business models relate to various technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. These emerging technologies, as this publication has analysed previously, are the nascent wave of cloud services, and are a key differentiator for the hyperscalers’ capabilities. Microsoft released a diagram (below) outlining how its assets come together to provide operators with the platform they need.

“By harnessing the power of Microsoft Azure on their edge, or in the cloud, operators can transition to a more flexible and scalable model, drive down infrastructure cost, use AI and machine learning to automate operations and create service differentiation,” added Zander. “A hybrid and hyperscale infrastructure will provide operators with the agility they need to rapidly innovate and experiment with new 5G services on a programmable network.”

5G is, of course, where the operators have the upper hand. So where can the cloud players help? As mentioned before – it’s all about developers. Speaking to CloudTech in December when Amazon Web Services (AWS) partnered with Verizon, Nick McQuire, SVP enterprise at CCS Insight, explained: “For 5G to meet the enormous hype and expectation surrounding it, operators are desperate to woo developers to the platform to create 5G applications which at the moment are very thin on the ground.”

This is certainly something Microsoft is taking seriously. Alongside its acquisitions, and its running partnership with AT&T – the latest update around IoT coming through last week – Microsoft was the first public cloud provider to join the 5G Open Innovation Lab earlier this month. The other founding members are Amdocs, Dell Technologies, and VMware.

The collaboration is similar, but not the same as, Google Cloud’s Global Mobile Edge Cloud (GMEC) strategy, building an open cloud platform to deliver services in conjunction with telecoms companies.

“The lab will create long-term, sustainable developer and commercial ecosystems that will accelerate the delivery of exciting new capabilities at the edge, including pervasive IoT intelligence and immersive mixed reality,” added Zander. “And this is just the beginning.”

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