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6 December 2018

Global Accelerator could allow enterprises to bypass the Internet – and telcos

The Global Accelerator allows multinational companies to bypass the Internet to improve the performance and reliability of applications. The service aims to make it simple to route traffic from users to endpoints, or AWS edge locations, running in multiple AWS regions.  Clients are “directed to the right application endpoint based on their geographic location, application health, and customer-configurable routing policies”. This is done over, in AWS’s words, the firm’s “vast, highly available and congestion-free global network backbone and edge locations”.

That highlights how the service could not just bypass the Internet, but telco services too.

Peter DeSantis, AWS’s VP of global infrastructure, said in his keynote at Re:invent that the public Internet works “surprisingly well, for a massively distributed system with no central authority”, but congestion and delays can result when providers hand off packets without visibility into the receiving network. “People often colloquially refer to this as ‘Internet weather’,” DeSantis said, and it becomes problematic for applications that need very short response times, such as video and highly interactive games, or those which need extremely high levels of availability.

This clearly impinges deeply on the business of multinational operators, fixed or mobile. AWS’s service allocates each application a unique, unchanging IP address so there is no need to update clients as the app scales. The endpoints are continuously monitored so that clients are only directed to healthy ones, with no need to change client configuration, which in turn enables customers to respond to application failures or updates in seconds.

In many ways, the webscale providers, especially AWS and Microsoft Azure, and the telcos need one another. The operators increasingly offer public cloud services as part of their enterprise portfolios and the cloud giants can provide secure, optimized connectivity via telco partnerships, more effectively than building it themselves.

Telcos offer services that AWS does not (yet), such as connecting on-premises data centers with workloads in different clouds; plus SD-WAN, MPLS and security.

However, the challenge for operators is what the balance of power will be. There have been some points in their favor – for instance, as enterprises move towards multi-cloud environments, the connectivity provider may be the core supplier relationship tying all the applications together, while the public clouds become commoditized. Such trends may have been behind the close AWS/AT&T partnership announced in 2016, under which the two firms cross-sell one another’s services rather than competing.

Under that deal, the two companies will integrate their respective networking and cloud capabilities, going well beyond existing work to connect devices to the cloud, and working on optimizing those links, but also preconfiguring sensors and devices for efficiency in the IoT, and working on overall platform security and threat management.

This seems to show AT&T acknowledging a reality which most carriers will have to do too – that they are not in a position to compete with Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure directly in offering cloud services. But they have highly valuable expertise in device connectivity and management, and in provisioning and monetizing large numbers of gadgets and consumers.

So alliances like this one are sure to proliferate, though some telcos will be more successful than others in avoiding a bitpipe role in the cloud, and securing a significant role in the value chain. Telcos used to dismiss the huge webscale businesses and argue that private or hybrid cloud providers would deliver greater value and optimized experience. But the economics of the giants are too great to resist – their costs, but also their ability to invest heavily in essential enablers like security. However, the public cloud majors still lack the ability to look deeply into the networks, so alliances with operators will hold significant value for them, especially in the Internet of Things with its vast numbers of connections and sensors.

AT&T is drawing a clear line between what it believes to be the natural territory of the new virtualized, software-driven telco – of which it is one of the world’s most advanced examples – and what must be entrusted to partners. Its hope, no doubt, is that the actual cloud platform will become the commodity, not the newly flexible and programmable telco network – though of course, both will be just conduits for high value applications, services and virtual network functions (VNFs).

The trick for telcos will be to ensure they deliver enough of those high value elements to justify their huge investments in infrastructure, a process in which they will sometimes be competing with their own IT and cloud partners. But at least they can support huge scalability and remove at least one area of high cost from their plans by working with cloud giants. They can then concentrate on optimizing performance in their networks, and on deploying services and connectivity close to the user or the IoT device, via the localized IT platforms and low latency connections of edge compute.

But on the mobile side, many operators have remained in a low-value role in many enterprise environments, because of their failure to offer top quality indoor coverage in so many locations. As organizations and industries go increasingly mobile-first, this is becoming a problem, leading to enterprises turning to other solutions such as private mobile networks or emerging neutral host solutions, either harnessing shared spectrum, or reducing the MNO’s place in the value chain to spectrum fees.

  • AWS Global Accelerator is available in the following AWS regions: US East (Northern Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), US West (Northern California), Europe (Ireland), Europe (Frankfurt), Asia Pacific (Tokyo) and Asia Pacific (Singapore.)