Microsoft announces Azure Operator Nexus; Enea to deliver subscriber data management and traffic management in 4G & 5G
Microsoft launched its brand new next-gen hybrid cloud platform – Azure Operator Nexus – for network operators today. Azure Operator Nexus is an expansion of the Azure Operator Distributed Services private preview. Azure Operator Nexus is a hybrid, carrier-grade cloud platform designed for the specific needs of the operator in running network functions such as packet core, virtualized radio access networks (vRAN), subscriber data management, and billing policy. Azure Operator Nexus is a first-party Microsoft product that builds on the functionality of its predecessor, adding essential features of key Microsoft technologies such as Mariner Linux, Hybrid AKS, and Arc while continuing to leverage Microsoft Services for security, lifecycle management, Observability, DevOps and automation.
Azure Operator Nexus has already been released to our flagship customer, AT&T, and the results have been incredibly positive. Now, we’re selectively working with operators for potential deployments around the world. In this blog post, we provide an overview of the service from design and development to deployment and also discuss benefits the customers can expect, including research and analysis into the total cost of ownership (TCO).
Microsoft Azure Operator Nexus leverages cloud technology to modernize and monetize operator network investments to deliver benefits such as:
- Lower overall TCO
- Greater operations efficiency and resiliency through AI and automation
- Improved security for highly-distributed, software-based networks
Azure Operator Nexus is a purpose-built service for hosting carrier-grade network functions. The service is specifically designed to bring carrier-grade performance and resiliency to traditional cloud infrastructures. Azure Operator Nexus delivers operator mobile core and vRAN network functions securely in on-premises (far-edge, near-edge, core datacenters) and on-Azure regions. This delivers a rich Azure experience, including visibility into logging, monitoring, and alerting for infrastructure components and workloads. Operators will have a consistent environment across both on-premises and Azure regions, allowing network function workloads to move seamlessly from one location to another based on application needs and economics.
Whether deployed on-premises or in Azure infrastructure, network functions may access an identical set of platform capabilities. On-premises, the service uses a curated hardware BOM of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based servers, network switches, dedicated storage arrays, and terminal servers. Both deployment models are Linux-based, in alignment with network function needs, telecommunications industry trends, and relevant open-source communities. Additionally, the service supports both virtualized network functions (VNFs) and containerized network functions (CNFs).
The Azure Operator Nexus is based on the experience of a large telecommunications operator that has spent the past seven years virtualizing more than 75 percent of its network and overcoming the scale challenges of network-function virtualization. From this deep networking and virtualization experience, Operator Nexus was designed to:
- Provide the network function runtime that allows the fast-packet processing required to meet the carrier-grade-network demands of network functions supporting tens of millions of subscribers. Examples of requirements the platform delivers include optimized container support, flexible, fine-grained VM sizing, NUMA alignment to avoid UPI performance penalties, Huge Pages, CPU pinning, CPU isolation, Multiple Network Attachments, SR-IOV & OVS/DPDK host coexistence, SR-IOV trusted mode capabilities and complex scheduling support across failure domains.
- Ensure the quality, resiliency, and security required by network-function workloads through robust test automation.
- Deliver lifecycle automation to manage cloud instances and workloads from their creation through minor updates and configuration changes, and even major uplifts such as VMs and Kubernetes upgrades. This is accomplished via a unified and declarative framework driving low operational cost, high-quality performance, and minimal impact on mission-critical running network workloads.
In addition to the performance-enhancing features, Azure Operator Nexus also includes a fully integrated solution of software-defined networking (SDN), low latency storage, and an integrated packet broker. The connectivity between the Operator premises and Azure leverages Express Route Local capabilities to address the transfer of large volumes of operational data in a cost-effective manner.
One of the key benefits of a hybrid cloud infrastructure is its ability to provide harmonized observability for both infrastructure and applications. This means one can easily monitor and troubleshoot any issues that may arise, ensuring systems are running smoothly and efficiently. The platform collects logs, metrics, and traces from network function virtualization infrastructure (NFVI) and network functions (NFs). It also offers a rich analytical, AI/ML-based toolset to develop descriptive and prescriptive analytics. Our goal with this observability architecture is to securely bring all operator data into a single data lake where it can be processed to provide a global-network view and harvested for operational and business insights.
Stockholm Sweden based Enea is amongst the first to join the program. They will deliver subscriber data management and traffic management in 4G and 5G for the new platform.
The introduction of Enea’s Telecom product portfolio will further enhance mobile operators’ ability to unlock the potential of 5G and provide more choice in pre-validated solutions to ensure a faster time to deployment for solutions. Enea’s telecom products include the Stratum Network Data layer, 5G Service Engine, Subscription Manager and Policy Manager, providing a range of subscriber data management, authorization and traffic management capabilities for both 4G & 5G mobile environments.
Azure Operator Nexus program provides an API layer to automate and manage network functions. The Enea network functions will integrate and validate at both the API interoperability level and the automated deployment level to provide telecom operators the option to build, host and operate these containerized functions as part of a network in a cloud or hybrid cloud environment. As pre-validated services, the Enea network functions will be available in the Azure Marketplace.
“The integration with Microsoft Azure Operator Nexus demonstrates Enea’s commitment to multi-vendor telecom architecture, software-based solution and open interoperability.”, said Osvaldo Aldao, Vice President of Product Management at Enea. Further adding, “The addition of our Stratum network data layer as an open 5G UDR & UDSF will provide the data management foundation to drive a fully cloud native architecture with Azure Operator Nexus”.
“Enea joining the Microsoft Azure Operator Nexus Ready Program enables both network function expertise and deployment experience from their extensive portfolio”, said Ross Ortega, Vice President – Azure for Operators, “Enea’s pre-validated functions in the Azure Marketplace will be an essential building block for operator networks.”
Microsoft Azure for Operators:
Enea software portfolio:
Network Data Layer: https://www.enea.com/solutions/4g-5g-network-data-layer/
5G Applications https://www.enea.com/solutions/data-management-applications/
Traffic Management – https://www.enea.com/solutions/traffic-management/4g-5g-user-plane-dual-mode-services/
Enea is a world-leading specialist in software for telecom and cybersecurity. The company’s cloud-native solutions connect, optimize, and secure services for mobile subscribers, enterprises, and the Internet of Things. More than 100 communication service providers and 4.5 billion people rely on Enea technologies every day.
Enea has strengthened its product portfolio and global market position by integrating a number of acquisitions, including Qosmos, Openwave Mobility, Aptilo Networks, and AdaptiveMobile Security.
Contact: Stephanie Huf, Chief Marketing Officer [email protected]
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From Dan Meyer of SDxCentral:
The Microsoft Nexus platform sits under the broader Azure for Operators product the hyperscaler has been working on for a couple of years. It’s also an updated iteration of the Azure Operator Distributed Services (AODS) platform Microsoft unveiled early last year.
Nexus provides operators with a pre-validated telecom platform that can run from the cloud to the edge and allows operators to select where to run their network functions in support of their 5G or 4G LTE network. The cloud is Microsoft’s Azure public cloud, with the edge being an operator’s on-premises location housing validated server hardware.
“The question of where do you want to place a network function is a decision that the operator can decide,” Yousef Khalidi, corporate VP of Azure for Operators at Microsoft, explained during a press conference at this week’s MWC Barcelona 2023 event.
Khalidi explained that the platform is purpose-built to run on Azure and host carrier-grade network functions. This includes mobile core and virtualized radio access network (RAN) network functions that can run in different on-premises environments and in Azure regions.
For on-premises, customers can purchase the hardware components from Microsoft partners, which include established hardware providers like Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). For the public region option, Microsoft handles all of the hardware in those centers.
For the overlaid network functions, Microsoft pointed to support for vendors like Ericsson, Nokia, HPE, Juniper Networks, and Mavenir, and system integrator support from partners like Accenture, Amdocs, NEC, and Tech Mahindra.
“It’s not a DIY platform where you have to go pick up a hypervisor and maybe OpenStack and what have you and build it yourself,” Khalidi said. “Instead, it’s a system from Microsoft with our own optimized distribution, container technologies, very similar to what we have done in the public cloud, but carrier-grade and built for network functions.”
Khalidi added that the platform also taps into Microsoft’s Azure Arc, Mariner Linux, and Hybrid AKS (Azure Kubernetes Service) to support the containerization and management of network functions.
Microsoft has been working on its Azure-based telecom plans for several years. That initial work was to link its private Azure Edge Zones service, its Azure IoT Central platform, virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC) software it gained by acquiring Affirmed Networks, and cloud-native network functions it brought onboard when it acquired Metaswitch Networks.
These efforts were further boosted when Microsoft struck a deal to acquire AT&T’s extensive Network Cloud technology business in mid-2021.
Igal Elbaz, SVP and network CTO at AT&T, explained at the MWC event that the carrier was currently running its entire 5G network on its initial virtualized cloud-based platform operating inside of its own data centers and on its own hardware, but plans to begin tapping into the new Microsoft iteration as it bolsters its 5G standalone (SA) service.
Elbaz also noted that the Azure Nexus platform brings in automation and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that are becoming increasingly important to manage complex 5G network architectures.
“It’s table stakes today,” Elbaz said of the need for automation. “It’s critical to the success of building large-scale networks. We are continuing to introduce large-scale technologies into the network and when we design and we architect these we always think about how we’re going to operate this. What’s the level of automation, what’s the level of possibly AI over time, we all have this vision of autonomous networks.”
Jason Zander, EVP for strategic missions and technologies at Microsoft, noted that the company’s AI work is also being influenced by its ChatGPT platform that it’s bringing “to the operator space.” He noted some of this is already happening with the GitHub Copilot service.
Countering AWS, Countered by Google
Google countered Microsoft’s move this week by updating its own telecom-focused products running on Google Cloud. This includes the capability for operators to now run their RAN functions as software on its Google Distributed Cloud Edge (GDC Edge) platform.
Google launched GDC Edge for general availability last April. Like Microsoft’s Nexus, GDC Edge is targeted at telecom providers wanting to run 5G core and RAN assets at the edge. It includes hardware and software components.
The new RAN support taps into Google’s also newly launched Telecom Data Fabric and Telecom Network Automation products that provide AI and automation to help facilitate virtualized RAN (vRAN) and open RAN deployments.
Google has touted Verizon and Bell Canada as two telecom operators using the GDC Edge platform. The Verizon deal was announced in 2021, where Google joined its cloud rivals Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure in supporting the carrier’s broad edge initiatives. Bell Canada added Google to its ongoing work with AWS.
Microsoft and Google’s moves both come on the heels of AWS updating its own 5G telecom plans.
The company last week unveiled its fully managed AWS Telco Network Builder service that is targeted at telecom operators or enterprises wanting to deploy private wireless networks with a minimum of network management requirements. T-Mobile US quickly jumped on that launch by becoming the first U.S.-based carrier to integrate the AWS service into its Advanced Network Solutions portfolio to power 5G edge compute services.
AWS has also been working with many carriers to host different levels of their 5G network deployments.
“Our goal is I want to make AWS the best place to run 5G networks,” Jan Hofmeyr, VP for AWS’ EC2 said during an interview at AWS’ recent re:Invent show. “That is the overarching objective. How can I make AWS, whether we are running it in the region, in a Local Zone, on an Outposts, on a Snow device, how do we make it the best place to run a 5G network, and then provide that infrastructure.”