AT&T has added integrator Tech Mahindra to its growing roster of cloud partners, with a multiyear deal worth a reported $1bn.
This will see TechM taking over management of many of the telco’s back office systems as part of a move to modernize its 5G operations and transition to an entirely cloud-based IT and network environment. It will be responsible for moving the bulk of AT&T’s BSS/OSS systems to the Microsoft Azure cloud, following a deal, announced in July.
AT&T has been evaluating its timescales and partners to migrate different elements of its network to the cloud, and at the same time, it has been assessing its external role in the cloud world, and the allies it requires to offer services to enterprises.
These processes have resulted in a string of cloud agreements, with AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM and Dell, and now TechM. The newest deal is the Indian firm’s largest in at least five years, it said, and the biggest endorsement yet of the company’s recent push into the telecoms services market. AT&T was already a customer, but is now expanding the partnership to help enable advanced software-defined networking (SDN) and its recent pledge to move nearly all its non-network workloads to the public cloud by 2024.
This promise was made by outgoing Communications chief John Donovan when he announced the Azure deal in July, saying that AT&T would be a “public cloud-first” company by 2024, at least when it came to IT and business support applications. Network functions such as virtualized RAN and core are moving to the cloud too, but are likely to stay on private infrastructure until the results of the IT transition are seen.
“Our agreement with Tech Mahindra is another step forward in delivering greater flexibility across our IT operations. This includes optimizing our core operations and modernizing our internal network applications to accelerate innovation as we march forward to our goal of a nationwide 5G network by the first half of 2020,” AT&T Communications’ CIO Jon Summers said in a statement.
AT&T said the addition of TechM would help it aggregate more of its functions and streamline business processes to reduce cost and boost efficiency. “Our aim is to significantly boost AT&T’s 5G time-to-market and simultaneously reduce their costs of ownership by automating aspects of their network lifecycle,” said Manish Vyas, CEO of TechM’s network business.
Moving AT&T’s applications to Azure is the largest part of the project, but there are other elements too. “We’re taking responsibility for hundreds of applications, moving them to the cloud, and modernizing their architectures going forward,” Manish Vyas, TechM’s president of telecoms and media, told LightReading. It is also working on automating the enterprise back office systems which are shared between AT&T’s business units.
Not all AT&T’s cloud alliances relate to its own internal transformation. The Azure partnership, reportedly worth $2bn, is focused not just on inhouse applications, but on consolidating AT&T’s cloud assets, including its edge locations, to provide a platform for external enterprise services. The longest-standing cloud alliance, with Amazon AWS, centers on a joint pitch for enterprise contracts, in which AT&T connectivity and security is cross-sold with AWS cloud services.
The deal will create hundreds of jobs at Tech Mahindra in the Dallas area, Vyas says. But he declined to comment on whether AT&T would see layoffs.
Not all AT&T’s cloud alliances relate to its own internal transformation. The Azure partnership, reportedly worth $2bn, is focused not just on inhouse applications, but on consolidating AT&T’s cloud assets, including its edge locations, to provide a platform for external enterprise services.
The longest-standing cloud alliance, with Amazon AWS, centers on a joint pitch for enterprise contracts, in which AT&T connectivity and security is cross-sold with AWS cloud services. This was significant when AT&T announced the deal because it showed the operator – like many of its peers – backing away from the idea that it would operate its own cloud to support enterprise or consumer services. Instead, it will focus on what it does best – deploying and running networks, implementing security and device management and so on – while calling on AWS for the cloud capabilities, rather than competing with it.
The same debate now seems to have been extended to where AT&T will host its additional enterprise offerings as well as its own internal services, including its BSS/OSS, and eventually its core and virtualized RAN. The shift to the public cloud is a logical culmination of a process which began last year when AT&T sold its own cloud infrastructure for $1.1bn, while at the same time increasing its reliance on cloud services.
In a blog post about AT&T Commnunications’ deal with Microsoft, Donovan wrote: “It’s no secret the cloud, AI and 5G will drive the next surge in innovation … For that, there’s no stronger technology pairing than the capabilities of Microsoft’s cloud and AT&T’s network. That’s the significance of our new extensive, multiyear alliance.”
Donovan has excluded network functions from the 2024 deadline, while making it clear, in other comments, that the ultimate goal is to move cloud-based network elements to third party infrastructure too over time, even if they are initially deployed on AT&T’s own infrastructure.
The two-step process would make sense, giving the telco full control in the first phases of deploying a cloud-native core and RAN, when it is almost certain – like Rakuten – to have to do extensive tuning and optimization. Over time, as these network functions mature and are better understood, the end goal of a fully automated, programmable, dynamic network should be achieved, and at that point, there is no reason not to move the RAN and core to the public cloud too. That, however, could be very late in the next decade, even for a technologically advanced operator like AT&T.
So AT&T says it will consolidate its data center infrastructure and operations in order to move its workloads to Azure, reducing costs and deploying new services more quickly, particularly in leading edge applications such as machine learning and advanced security.
On Microsoft’s side, it wins a significant new customer, plus an endorsement of the viability of the public cloud for telco operations. It will also gain access to AT&T’s 5G capabilities. Donovan said: “Our 5G capabilities are already spurring innovation in manufacturing, healthcare and entertainment. Now, Microsoft will also tap into the innovation and resources our 5G network delivers. That includes collaborating to design, test and build edge computing capabilities. Edge computing is the future – and together we’ll be at the forefront.” The two companies are planning to launch joint services in areas like Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity – applications for which, until last week, AWS might have expected to be the leading cloud partner.
The AT&T Business division also announced its own cloud alliance in July, and will work with IBM Cloud, moving some of its business applications to that platform while becoming IBM’s primary provider of software-defined networks (SDN) in return. AT&T Business will also use the open source Red Hat software (now owned by IBM) to manage workloads for its enterprise customers and will collaborate with IBM on multicloud capabilities for 5G, edge computing and the IoT.
For now, the areas of AT&T’s network which have already been virtualized are running on its Network Cloud (formerly called AT&T Integrated Cloud or AIC), which has been migrating to a more cloud-native approach with the addition of Kubernetes containers partly enabled by an alliance with Mirantis. That three-year deal was announced in February and will help AT&T build out the next generation of its Network Cloud, this one focused on 5G.
AT&T has been building this Network Cloud using software from an open source project it helped to initiate within the OpenStack Foundation, called Airship. That was kicked off last year with SK Telecom and Intel and aimed to make it easier to build and manage a cloud. AT&T is using the software to make it practicable to roll out a large number of data centers and manage them on a single lifecycle – the Network Cloud has more than 100 data centers so far. It is now partnering with Dell on the Airship project.
Now it plans to refresh the cloud infrastructure to align Network Cloud better with its impending 5G upgrade, and it has hired Mirantis to help. The suppliers CMO and co-founder, Boris Renski, said: “Importantly, what drove this rearchitecture and name change is the necessity to also roll out 5G workloads.”