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]
Tech Mahindra and Microsoft partner to bring cloud-native 5G SA core network to global telcos
India’s Tech Mahindra and Microsoft have announced a collaboration to enable cloud-powered 5G SA core network for telecom operators worldwide. As a part of the collaboration, Tech Mahindra will provide its expertise, comprehensive solutions, and managed services offerings to telecom operators for their 5G SA Core networks. Tech Mahindra will provide its expertise like “Network Cloudification as a Service” and AIOps to global telecom operators for their 5G Core networks. AIOps will help operators combine big data and machine learning to automate network operations processes, including anomaly detection, predicting fault and performance issues.
CP Gurnani, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Tech Mahindra said, “Today, it is critical to leverage next-gen technologies to build relevant and resilient services and solutions for customers across the globe. At Tech Mahindra, we are well-positioned to help telecom operators realize the full potential of their networks and provide innovative and agile services to their customers while also helping them meet their ESG commitments. Our collaboration with Microsoft will further strengthen our service portfolio by combining our deep expertise across the telecom industry with Microsoft Cloud. Further to this collaboration, Tech Mahindra and Microsoft will work together to help telecom operators simplify and transform their operations in order to build green and secure networks by leveraging the power of cloud technologies. At Tech Mahindra, we are well-positioned to help telecom operators realize the full potential of their networks and provide innovative and agile services to their customers while also helping them meet their ESG commitments.”
Tech Mahindra believes the 5G core network will enable use cases such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), IoT (Internet of Things, and edge computing. Of course, 5G URLLC performance requirements, especially ultra low latency, in the RAN and core network must be met first, which they are not at this time. The company will leverage the Microsoft Azure cloud for its sustainability solution iSustain to measure and monitor KPIs across all three aspects of E, S & G. iSustain will help operators address the challenge of measuring and reducing carbon emissions from the networks while meeting demands of the countless energy intense digital technologies, from AR/ VR to IoT.
Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India said, “Harnessing the power of Microsoft Azure, telecom operators can provide more flexibility and scalability, save infrastructure cost, use AI to automate operations, and differentiate their customer offerings. The collaboration between Tech Mahindra and Microsoft will help our customers build green and secured networks with seamless experiences across the Microsoft cloud and the operator’s network. Azure provides operators with cloud solutions that enable them to create new revenue generating services and move existing services to the cloud. Through our collaboration with Tech Mahindra, Microsoft will further help telcos overcome challenges, drive innovation and build green and secured networks that provide seamless experiences by leveraging the power of Microsoft Cloud for Operators.”
The partnership is in line with Tech Mahindra’s NXT.NOWTM framework, which aims to enhance the ‘Human Centric Experience’, Tech Mahindra focuses on investing in emerging technologies and solutions that enable digital transformation and meet the evolving needs of the customer.
About Tech Mahindra:
Tech Mahindra offers innovative and customer-centric digital experiences, enabling enterprises, associates and the society to Rise. We are a USD 6 billion organization with 163,000+ professionals across 90 countries helping 1279 global customers, including Fortune 500 companies. We are focused on leveraging next-generation technologies including 5G, Blockchain, Metaverse, Quantum Computing, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and more, to enable end-to-end digital transformation for global customers. Tech Mahindra is the only Indian company in the world to receive the HRH The Prince of Wales’ Terra Carta Seal for its commitment to creating a sustainable future. We are the fastest growing brand in ‘brand strength’ and amongst the top 7 IT brands globally. With the NXT.NOWTM framework, Tech Mahindra aims to enhance ‘Human Centric Experience’ for our ecosystem and drive collaborative disruption with synergies arising from a robust portfolio of companies. Tech Mahindra aims at delivering tomorrow’s experiences today and believes that the ‘Future is Now.’
Tech Mahindra: “We can build and run an entire 4G and 5G or any enterprise network”
Tech Mahindra: India Needs to Begin 5G Spectrum Auction Now!
Microsoft unveils Azure Space Partner Community to shape the future of space technologies and services
Microsoft is expanding its relationships with space companies through the Azure Space Partner Community, an initiative unveiled July 19 at the Microsoft Inspire 2022 conference.
The Azure Space Partner Community enables Microsoft’s partners to deliver the most comprehensive and innovative offerings to joint customers, helping to shape the future of space technologies and services. The space industry is rapidly advancing and we believe in the power of bringing together this community in an ecosystem.
This ecosystem is enabled with opportunities such as co-engineering, go-to-market scaling and support, alongside many other benefits designed to empower our partners. We are excited to rapidly innovate and advance the industry with our inaugural cohort of partners, and we look forward to welcoming new partners in the days to come.
“By launching the Azure Space Partner Community, we can enable our partners to deliver the most comprehensive and innovative offerings to our joint customers, and help shape the future of space technologies and services,” Stephen Kitay, Microsoft Azure Space senior director, told SpaceNews. “This is an ecosystem of space partners with exclusive access to technical support and scaling solutions.”
Microsoft’s inaugural cohort of space-related partners are Airbus, Amergint, Ball Aerospace, blackshark.ai, Esri, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, iDirect, Intelsat, Kratos, KSAT, Loft Orbital, Nokia, Omnispace, Orbital Insight, SES, SkyWatch, SpaceX, Thales Alenia Space, US Electrodynamics, Viasat and Xplore.
Image Credit: Microsoft
“We look forward to welcoming new partners in the days to come,” Kitay said.
Microsoft has played a growing role in the space sector since announcing plans in 2020 to help customers move data directly from satellites into the Azure cloud for processing and storage.
“We’ve increasingly seen an opportunity for this community to benefit from Microsoft engineering and go-to-market resources,” Kitay said.
Azure Space Community partners will have access to Microsoft sales and engineering specialists, go-to-market scale and support, and guidance related to marketing and community involvement. In addition, Azure Space Partners will be eligible for incentives like Azure credits, sponsored accounts and volume discounts.
By establishing the Azure Space Community, Microsoft is “creating more of a structure” to clearly convey the benefits of membership and enable the tech giant to “efficiently onboard” new partners, Kitay said.
Through the Azure Space Partner Community (which falls under the broader Microsoft Partner Program), Microsoft also is acknowledging the growing importance of the space sector.
“It is absolutely representative of the value and importance that Microsoft is placing on this industry and our excitement about growing alongside these partners,” Kitay said. “Space is a big data domain, where massive amounts of data are either moving through space with connectivity solutions or being collected from space and transmitted to the Earth. The need to process that, understand it and then connect it with customers is vitally important.
Program Details and Deliverables:
Image Credit: Microsoft
Co-innovation and engineering:
The Azure Space Partner Community will have direct access to Microsoft engineering and specialist resources to turn our partnership vision into reality, including:
- Participation in Azure Space training to learn about and onboard the latest Azure Space technologies.
- Collaboration and innovation with our engineering and sales specialist teams for customer proof of concepts to demonstrate the value of our partnership.
- Access to quarterly Azure Space NDA roadmap reviews and newsletters, and ability to directly influence the produce roadmap.
- Partner highlighting in reference architectures and training materials.
- Priority access to early adopter and private preview programs.
Go-to-market scale and support:
Our Azure Space Partner Community will be able to increase their go-to-market opportunities by participating in the following opportunities:
- Microsoft first party product integration or add-ins, such as in Teams, Power BI, or productivity tools.
- White glove onboarding to the Microsoft Cloud Partner Program, to become a cloud solution provider or managed solution provider via direct or indirect channels.
- Support onboarding to the Azure Marketplace as an indirect or transactable offer, with access to a broad set of Azure sellers and customers.
- Joint go-to-market coordination with a regular cadence of customer pipeline reviews.
Marketing and community involvement:
Azure Space provides a unique opportunity for our partners to expand their marketing through public outreach via our marketing channels, such as:
- Opportunities to be showcased in Microsoft customer presentations and sales training.
- Participation in space and spectrum focused Microsoft events – such as BUILD, Inspire or sales readiness.
- Joint public relations and marketing opportunities, such as press releases, blogs, and speaking events at conferences.
Product offering incentives:
The Space Partner Community will also have special access to our premier incentives offered for Azure Space product offerings:
- Azure credits, sponsored accounts, and volume discounts in return for Microsoft Azure Consumption Commitment.
- Enterprise Agreement Programs, such as Licensed Service Providers (LSPs) and Azure Online Services Government (AOSG), with rebates based on resell criteria.
- FastTrack dedicated modernization and migration architecture support for qualified opportunities.
- Many other Microsoft Partner Network benefits, such as credits for gold competencies and partner marketing benefits via co-sell programs.
Progress report: Moving AT&T’s 5G core network to Microsoft Azure Hybrid Cloud platform
A little more than six months after AT&T announced it’s 5G SA Core Network would run on Microsoft Azure cloud platform, a Microsoft blog post by Shawn Hakl, VP of 5G strategy in Azure for Operators, provides a progress report on that crucial IT industry initiative. Microsoft received requests from many operators, partners, and customers to share more details of the evolution of Microsoft’s hybrid cloud technology to support AT&T’s 5G core network workloads.
Through Azure for Operators, Microsoft has forged close ties with AT&T personnel, product services groups, and partners. At the heart of the value Microsoft delivers in each of these relationships, is the way in which we leverage the power of the cloud to improve the next generation of telco networks. Microsoft aims to harness trends toward Software Defined Networking (SDN), Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNFs), and Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) coupled with the service-based architecture of 5G, to begin digitally transforming the network.
That evolution involves introducing both hybrid cloud infrastructure and software, building scalable elastic carrier-grade networks, and using the power of AI and machine learning to build self-optimizing networks that can heal, defend, and provision themselves. These efforts will enable operators to hyper-automate the business itself, bringing down costs and improving the overall service experience. Azure for Operators represents the set of investments Microsoft is making to bring the power of the cloud to the network.
Microsoft’s efforts are aimed at getting workloads on the network to function on a carrier-grade hybrid cloud, which includes both public and dedicated on-premises cloud infrastructure. Telecommunication services are highly distributed and will likely become more so over time. As a result, the value of creating a carrier-grade hybrid cloud model lives in its ability to meet customers where they are—at the edge of the cloud, the edge of the network, or the edge of the enterprise.
AT&T Backgrounder on use of “SDN” and network virtualization:
In 2013, AT&T adopted an aggressive position on “Software Defined Networks (SDNs)” and network virtualization, with the ultimate goal of delivering 75 percent of their network using virtualized technology by 2020. With their own definition of SDN (not related to the ONF’s strict separation of control and data planes or using OpenFlow as the southbound interface between them). AT&T says they did meet those objectives, but this author is skeptical based on checks with AT&T employees that work in their central offices.
In the 2013-2020 time frame, there was no commercial cloud option available that included the necessary features and capabilities to enable carrier-grade cloud. AT&T created a mostly proprietary (not standards based as claimed) implementation of cloud technology that was deployed in their on-premises data centers. This initial integrated cloud evolved into a Network Cloud, and today, we’ve arrived at Network Cloud 2.7—representing seven years of experience developing on-premises cloud for network workloads.
With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of this technology, development teams from AT&T’s Network Cloud organization have moved into Azure for Operators, directly integrating the intellectual property into a Microsoft offering and assuring a seamless transition.
Unique AT&T – Microsoft Partnership:
Microsoft says their collaboration with AT&T is unique in three ways:
- It’s the first time that a tier-one operator has embraced commercial hybrid cloud technology to run mobility network workloads that support their existing consumer base.
- The effort is entirely focused on the mobility core network versus go-to-market collaborations at the edge.
- It’s a multi-vendor cloud-mobile core network system: Microsoft hybrid cloud technology supports the AT&T mobile core network that spans more than 60 cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and virtual network functions (VNFs) from 15 different vendors.
Network Cloud technology originally developed by AT&T can be utilized by multiple carriers, maintaining security, without losing differentiation, and with the added benefit of having many costs such as security patching, vendor updates, and regulatory changes delivered as part of a standard commercial product.
These capabilities will be combined with Microsoft’s edge platform, our hybrid management platform, Azure Arc, and our ecosystem of partners including equipment providers, hardware vendors, and software vendors. By joining the Network Cloud with our platform and growing ecosystem, we have achieved a carrier-grade hybrid cloud solution that will be delivered as the Azure for Operators platform. The roles of the partners are as follows:
- Microsoft develops the carrier-grade hybrid cloud technology that supports the AT&T mobility core network workloads.
- AT&T continues to select and manage the network applications (VNFs and CNFs) and their configurations to deliver mobility services to AT&T customers.
In other words, Microsoft is taking the AT&T Network Cloud technology, building it into Microsoft’s standard hybrid cloud product, and then delivering a carrier-grade hybrid cloud solution to the market and AT&T itself, where it can run at AT&T on-premises or on Azure public cloud. Microsoft hybrid cloud technology supports the AT&T mobility core network workloads used to deliver 5G connectivity that supports consumer, enterprise, and the FirstNet responder community. In terms of security, it’s important to note that Microsoft does not access AT&T customer data—AT&T continues to hold access to that data, and Microsoft cannot see it.
For AT&T, this collaboration puts them in a position to deliver new services faster and more flexibly across Azure public cloud and on-premises with common tooling and services, reducing time-to-market for a cloud-native approach.
Microsoft believes the result will be better resiliency across the network, cost advantages when it comes to scaling existing services, and a more effective introduction of new services resulting in continuous improvements to the customer experience.
Before joining Microsoft in 2020, Hakl was a longtime Verizon executive. He added that “Telecommunication services are highly distributed and will likely become more so over time. As a result, the value of creating a carrier-grade hybrid cloud model lives in its ability to meet customers where they are – at the edge of the cloud, the edge of the network, or the edge of the enterprise.”
James Crawshaw, a principal analyst of service provider operations and IT for research and consulting firm Omdia (owned by Informa in the UK), wrote on LinkedIn that Microsoft will have a lot of work to do to fully support AT&T’s complex core and cloud operations.
He also wrote that AT&T has a history of offloading networking systems. For example, the company in 2016 offloaded its ECOMP orchestration/automation system to the Linux Foundation open source community. However, “I don’t think that was a huge success,” Crawshaw wrote. He believes AT&T has replaced ECOMP (subsequently dubbed ONAP) elements with commercial orchestration systems in a number of areas. Here are are his exact words:
“When AT&T found that its ECOMP orchestration/automation system was getting too hard to manage they offloaded it to the Linux Foundation in the hope that the open source community would take care of it (ONAP). I don’t think that was a huge success (it was a failure, in this author’s opinion). I believe AT&T has actually replaced ECOMP/ONAP with commercial orchestration systems in a number of areas. Offloading its OpenStack-based cloud platform to Microsoft is a similar strategy. But if Microsoft struggles to turn a managed service into a repeatable product that they can sell to other operators around the world they may end up offloading it onto an IT services company whose business model is a better fit.”
Microsoft’s acquisition of AT&T’s Network Cloud, as well as Metaswitch Networks and Affirmed Networks, brings the anchor applications and telco know-how to build the features that are required for a carrier-grade hybrid cloud. These features, available to the entire partner ecosystem, contribute to an open, interoperable network that offers support to all operators. The message to operators from Microsoft is simple and straightforward: your partners and your customers—and the relationship is powered by our technology. For more information about the Azure for Operators strategy, refer to the e-book.
AT&T 5G SA Core Network to run on Microsoft Azure cloud platform