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5G Factor Video Research Note: Azure for Operators: Build 5G Modern Connected Apps at the Edge

5G Factor VRN_Azure for Operators_Build 5G Modern Connected Apps at the Edge

In this vignette of The 5G Factor, Ron Westfall and Steve Dickens provide their perspective on Azure for Operators strategic commitment to build 5G modern connected applications across edge environments.

The conversation focused on:

Azure for Operators: Build 5G Modern Connected Apps at the Edge. Azure for Operators (AfO) is targeting the advancement of 5G modern connected apps across cloud computing fabrics, especially the edge. AfO brings Azure Public MEC, which leverages the mobile operator’s public 5G network connectivity, and Azure Private MEC, which brings the power of the cloud to the enterprise’s own infrastructure, as key solution offerings. We explore why AfO can move the needle in driving 5G modern connected apps across 5G environments.

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Transcript:

Ron Westfall: Which leads me to our next topic, cloud again, but it’s also vast 5G implications and what’s going on with Azure for operators. And currently, one of their major initiatives is building 5G modern connected applications, particularly at the edge. And I think we all understand that the cloud is swiftly expanding into a highly distributed computing fabric that is broadly available and powered by the network infrastructure, as well as an evolving new approach to application and connectivity. That is, again, what we already touched on, a lot more flexibility, being able to potentially build microservices, use things like network slicing and so forth. And what we’re seeing with modern connected applications are that they’re taking advantage of this distribution, but also lower latencies that 5G introduces, as well as network intelligence. So their applications are having a lot more awareness about what is going on with the network, but more importantly, certainly the IT overseers, administrators will have more information about how to optimize, for example, in industrial IoT application as a result of this.

But it also it’s pushing compute power out further into the edge. So whether you’re talking about a device or hard to reach areas such as rural areas, or maritime areas and so forth, Azure is now taking this extra step, Azure for Operators, to really make 5G more readily available. So I think this is a good move on their part. And they have two key components that make up the solution. There are others, but the two main ones that they’re kicking off with is called Azure Public MEC, or Multi-access Edge Compute. And it’s looking at leveraging the operator’s public 5G network, thus Azure Public MEC. And this allows developers, I believe, to be more successful in developing applications that leverage the public network. So that certainly has consumer applications in mind, but also certainly on the enterprise and business side.

So for example, something that we’ve heard a lot about, extended reality, including augmented reality and virtual reality, I think it can gain more traction. And I think we’re seeing virtual reality actually being successfully paired with those emerging digital twin technologies, for example. So this is something I think that we’ll be definitely keeping a close eye on in terms of how these applications are gaining traction, but certainly Azure for Operators’ role in this.

Now, the other part is Azure Private MEC, and that brings the power of the cloud to the enterprise’s own infrastructure, thus the private nature of it. And so this allows enterprises to combine cloud-managed edge servers, networking capability services, and that also gives them pretty much the control that they definitely prefer in terms of being able to have the security across their entire network implementation, including the 5G part. And that’s why we see private networks gaining more traction over the last couple of years plus. Now, there’s been some over-hyping of it, but I think 5G private networks are definitely going to be growing steadily and becoming a more important part of the overall 5G picture and ecosystem.

And with that, Steve, from your perspective, how do you see, again, the cloud playing a role here in terms of moving 5G forward, and for that matter Azure’s proposition here?

Steven Dickens: Well, I mean, we’ve seen the cloud probably over the first 10, 15 years be that horizontal layer, providing compute as a service. We’re seeing the sovereign clouds now develop. We’re also seeing industry specific clouds. IBM’s been making some traction in this space with financial services. We’re seeing Azure here focus on the telco space. So I think you’re going to start to see more industry-specific clouds, whether that’s regulatory frameworks, whether that’s technology architectures, kind of putting a spin on those platforms provided by the big cloud providers, uniquely tuned for the demands of specific industries or use cases. And we’re seeing Azure obviously made that step with operators. I think then so on-trend starting to see that sort of industry specificity from the cloud providers.

I think the other piece and the piece that was interesting that you discussed is kind of what’s happening out at the edge. We’re seeing a sort of confluence of factors there. It’s not only having the 5G technology, it’s having the sensors, it’s having the management frameworks and the automation. We’ve seen some good steps forward with lightweight Kubernetes distributions being able to be tuned for the edge.

So I think what you’re seeing is a combination of factors coming together. The sensors are getting better, the management plane’s getting better, the network’s getting better. So Azure stepping into that space and doing more for a 5G infrastructure with this new Azure for Operators makes perfect sense to me. You’re going to want that edge deployment, whether that’s private wifi, private 5G. Whatever the end technology is out of that edge, you’re going to increasingly want that connected back ultimately to a cloud platform. So I think Microsoft getting closer to the edge and almost all the way out to the far edge makes perfect sense for me. It’s a good move.

I think it’s going to be interesting to see the partnerships. We talked about Nokia and Red Hat. I think Microsoft’s going to have to partner in that space, and it’s a different set of partners. But obviously Microsoft’s got those partner networks and can make that work, so bullish on this. I expect to see more.

Ron Westfall: Amen. Yeah, no, I think that is exactly right. And yes, Microsoft clearly has a portfolio that is well-suited for advancing the edge cause, as we can characterize it. Certainly when it comes to AI, Microsoft has the technology and the assets to leverage that, and making the edge more effective for 5G use cases. And I think, yeah, this is a good example of Microsoft being able to drive more of what can be called use case networking on the enterprise side that is better able to support industrial automation, robotics, et cetera. All the things that I think are capturing not just the imagination, but also very practical pragmatic use cases that enterprises deeply value, and having a cloud partner that understands the edge bring the resources to optimize the edge will be a difference-maker as 5G matures and private 5G becomes all the more mainstream. And on that-

Steven Dickens: Well, I think it’s interesting you touched on AI in that space. I think getting lightweight AI as far out towards the far edge as possible is starting to become more realistic. Some of these models are getting smaller, the container management is getting down to single node rather than the three node. You’re starting to see a confluence that you were seeing a lot more of the hardware vendors put more compute capacity and capability further out into the edge. I was out with Lenovo a few weeks back looking at their portfolio at the far edge.

So I think it’s a confluence of some of these factors. I think AI is going to get further out towards the edge, and I think Microsoft obviously have got a role to play in that, given they’re one of the leaders in the AI space.

Ron Westfall: Yes. And I think there’s definitely a symmetry here that Microsoft has a competitive advantage over some other players, not all the players, but certainly this is something I think will be to their competitive advantage. And certainly this is the summer of AI, so everybody has an AI play right now, but we know that Microsoft basically played a major role in triggering the keen interest in AI, specifically generative AI back in the February timeframe, and this is something that will be with us for the foreseeable future. So we’re obviously going to keep an update on AI’s impact on 5G and vice versa. So these are exciting times. This is really good. And the two of them can definitely I believe, help drive private 5G, accelerate its uptake.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

Futurum Tech Webcast – Qualcomm, Schneider Electric, and Capgemini Hoist Private 5G Capabilities to New Levels

HPE Discover 2023: HPE Uplifts HPE GreenLake Private Cloud Proposition Through Portfolio and Partnership Expansion

Cisco Live 2023: Cisco and AT&T Join Forces to Elevate Mobile Experience for Hybrid Workforces

Author Information

Ron is an experienced, customer-focused research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets, working with businesses to drive consistent revenue and sales growth.

He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including a wide range of topics across software and services, infrastructure, 5G communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.

Prior to his work with The Futurum Group, Ron worked with GlobalData Technology creating syndicated and custom research across a wide variety of technical fields. His work with Current Analysis focused on the broadband and service provider infrastructure markets.

Ron holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from University of Nevada — Las Vegas and a Bachelor of Arts in political science/government from William and Mary.

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.

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