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Blog: Microsoft Fuels AT&T’s Cloud-Native Ambitions

AT&T sold its Network Cloud 2.7 software stack and associated IP to Microsoft in 2021 as the carrier worked to simplify the process of adding network functions while accelerating its journey to cloud native.

The deal allows AT&T to focus on serving its mobile customers instead of continuing to scale its own networking cloud, while Microsoft gains the ability to sell what was initially called the Azure for Operators service.

“What we’re seeing is that all major carriers are moving a lot of their core network functions to the cloud, or at least to cloud-native architectures, as they modernize their network cores,” Bob O’Donnell, President and CEO. chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research said Mobile world live (MWL).

As AT&T reached its goal of virtualizing 75% of its network by the end of 2020, virtual network functions (VNF) integration became onerous because each vendor had its own version.

Operators had to test and configure VNFs before integrating them for specific uses.

O’Donnell noted that moving network functions to the cloud gives operators the ability to scale them up or down very quickly.

AT&T’s Mobile Core Network currently covers more than 60 cloud native network functions (CNFs) and VNFs from 15 different vendors.

Dorota Blat, assistant vice president for network integration roadmap at AT&T Labs, said MWL the operator always selects the network functions it wants for its mobility layer, whether VNF or CNF, and certifies them to provide services to its customers.

As part of its Azure for Operators service, Microsoft works with network function providers, including Ericsson and Nokia, to ensure compatibility with its cloud.

Similar to Google Cloud’s Anthos for Telecom initiative, Microsoft is building an ecosystem of network function providers.

“It makes it much easier for AT&T, or for the telecom carriers,” Blat said. “We can now focus on mobility services, customer experience, etc. The cloud layer is central to Microsoft and this involves working with the ecosystem and network functions to ensure they can run on the cloud.

Cloud-native migration
Operators are turning to a cloud-native architecture to build and run scalable applications that include network functions in environments spanning public, private, and hybrid clouds.

In a speech at the LF Networking Open Networking and Edge executive forum on April 12, AT&T CTO Andre Fuetsch said the carrier’s cloud strategy for its autonomous mobility core makes cloud native a goal. important.

Futuriom Founder and Chief Technology Analyst Scott Raynovich noted that large carriers will continue to migrate to cloud-native functions and containerized platforms because operating costs are much lower when it’s about keeping the software on their networks: “It also has the added benefit of faster upgrades. service cycles and speed.

Shawn Hakl, vice president of 5G strategy at Azure for Operators, said MWL some network elements will remain physical, some will remain virtual, and a number will “hopefully” “migrate to containerized”.

“We think the right answer is for things to be containerized, but we also support virtualized network components,” Hakl noted.

While Blat and Hakl believe that cloud-native network functions are the future for mobile operators, a hybrid world of virtualized network components and CNF will coexist for a few years.

O’Donnell said that because AT&T needs to provide uninterrupted services to its customers, there won’t be a difficult transition to cloud native. He predicts that operators will deploy it to a single location in the city to assess its performance.

Blat noted that vendors still need to refactor their network functions to cloud native from scratch instead of containerizing their existing functions.

“That’s really where the real benefits will be for carriers like us, where it’s easier to do software upgrades and things of that nature by leveraging cloud native.”

“I think Microsoft is helping us accelerate this because not only are they bringing cloud technology by working with network functions, but they’re also helping them be cloud-ready.”

And after?
A glimpse of what’s on the horizon for combining AT&T’s networking cloud with Microsoft’s technologies surfaced at MWC Barcelona 2022 with the unveiling of Azure Operator Distributed Services (AODS), the next generation of services based on old carrier software technology.

At the macro level, AODS will allow carriers to run workloads including core and RAN, mobile and voice, and OSS and BSS on a single carrier-grade hybrid platform.

AT&T and Microsoft are developing AODS with initial testing stages planned for later this year.

The editorial opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its members or associate members.

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