AT&T’s Fuetsch: cloud, telco networks complementary for 5G applications

When it comes to future 5G applications that require low latency, like AR/VR, autonomous vehicles, or drones, AT&T’s Andre Fuetsch says telecom networks and cloud data centers are complementary.

Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer, spoke Wednesday at the virtual TM Forum Digital Transformation event, about accelerating the move to the cloud. Over the last several years AT&T’s considered where its own IT and network workloads would be best served, he noted, whether that is in-house on the carrier’s own private cloud or on the public cloud.

“As we’ve watched the public cloud grow, and they’ve been growing leaps and bounds, these clouds are not just scaling, they’re also getting much much more capable,” Fuestsch said.

To that end, the operator has been opting in many cases to move over IT workloads, along with some network workloads, to the public cloud.

“We’re finding the cloud itself is really good at transactional things that are going on, but it’s not necessarily the best at moving large tonnage of bits and bytes and that’s basically the business we’re in,” he said, but they see that changing.

AT&T sees a bigger opportunity to move some of its network workloads over time and take advantage as public clouds continue to become more capable and advanced in areas like types of hardware and accelerators. Many IT workloads on the carrier’s internal cloud already “are very ripe” to shift to the public cloud, Fuetsch said.

In terms of high-level motivators for AT&T’s migration, he cited better economics that come with scale, as well as more agility and “more exposure to these fast-growing developer ecosystem and toolsets that these cloud players bring to the table.”

Cloud players are becoming increasingly visible in the operator landscape, including Microsoft which just last week debuted Azure for Operators. It’s a carrier-grade cloud platform targeting telcos, and includes edge compute capabilities, alongside a developer ecosystem. In 2019 AT&T and Microsoft teamed up for multi-year partnership focused on the cloud, edge, AI and 5G.

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In deciding what to move to the cloud, Amdocs’ Anthony Goonetilleke, group president of Media, Network and Technology speaking at the TM Forum event, cited two key factors, one being financial metrics and getting a return on investment. The other is “time to value” where, for example, a company has a set of applications that it wants to use capabilities webscale providers can offer like elasticity and self-healing.

“Then it gives you this compelling event to move it to the cloud,” Goonetilleke said.    

It’s also an evolutionary time in the industry when many are thinking about monetizing and using the edge, he noted.

RELATED: Amdocs eyes 5G monetization through 5G Open Innovation Lab

So while those like Amazon/AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google want to move people to the cloud, Goonetilleke said – pointing out it is a $200 billion-plus market this year – service providers also bring components to the table, like powering the edge and 5G capabilities for enterprise.

“It’s kind of this yin and yang,” Goonetilleke noted. “You need both the webscale guys and the service providers to make the magic work for enterprises.”

Telecom networks and cloud data centers are, in many respects, “very complementary” when it comes to dynamic applications that go beyond things like basic messaging, according to Fuetsch.

“In the end it’s all about connecting customers to the resources they need,” Fuetsch said. Service providers have the last-mile end-point connection, he noted, with cloud players operating in dozens of data centers throughout a certain geographic area. “That can basically mean that resource could be 500-1,000 miles away.”

For those extremely latency-sensitive future 5G applications, resources need to be much closer and that’s where a a strong network is necessary. 

“By us working together with these cloud players we’re really stitching together solutions to bridge those gaps,” Fuetsch said, acknowledging that one could argue there are some competitive aspects.