Enterprises' hunger for cloud is fuel for their investments in gigabit broadband and service providers' deployments of high-speed fiber connectivity.
There are many cloud service providers from which enterprises can choose, ranging from small value-added resellers (VARs) to data centers and IT integrators to telcos and cablecos. A new breed of cloud providers is also emerging where enterprise-grade credentials are critical, according to a "2018 Trends to Watch: Cloud Computing," a new report by Light Reading sister company Ovum and Enterprise Cloud News.
"Service quality, which includes the availability and reliability of the service, is one of the most important aspects of enterprise-grade cloud. For mission-critical workloads, availability is a core element of what makes them critical," writes Roy Illsley, Ovum's principal analyst for infrastructure solutions, in the report. "For a cloud provider to be enterprise-grade, some level of maturity in internal operational processes and good account- management principles are expected."
These requirements benefit telcos, long accustomed to carrier-grade demands, said David Ohrn, assistant vice president of Hybrid Cloud Solutions at AT&T Business, in an interview with Broadband World News Editor Alison Diana. AT&T expects ongoing investments in fiber, internal infrastructure such as automation and machine learning, as well as its partnership with market behemoth Amazon Web Services (AWS) will generate revenue and market share.
Read on to learn more about AT&T Business's cloud services, opportunities and hurdles in this transcript of the phone conversation, edited for length and clarity:
Broadband World News: Could you briefly describe AT&T Business's cloud customer base?
David Ohrn: We have over 3.5 million customers that are interacting on a daily basis, all the way from small companies to large global players, and it's interesting because over 90% of them are working to move to the cloud. Some are in early planning phases, some are already in optimization. 2017 was really the year of realization [that] cloud has become mainstream. The question is, how do you optimize the data workflows?
BBWN: How would you describe 2017 for AT&T?
DO: We made some significant strides. Internally, by the end of the year, over 50% of our network functions were to be virtualized and we're well along the path of well over 80% of our IT functions getting moved over to the cloud.
BBWN: What will the drivers for cloud adoption be in 2018 as high-speed broadband becomes increasingly available and affordable to enterprises?
DO: As companies start to realize some of the efficiencies of the cloud, not only will they continue to optimize their cost structure, but they'll look at new ways of how to analyze and potentially even monetize that data.
As you think about big data -- artificial learning and machine learning -- AI is extremely difficult if you've got distributed data pools. Now, as companies start aggregating those together they're going to have rare opportunities to apply machine learning on top of those data platforms or data lakes and start gaining some intelligence or insight into customer preferences, buying behaviors, spending trends, what's the market doing -- plugging into even external sources like Google searches and what are the trends in the market. It'll start allowing companies to make decisions more effectively. Companies are going to become smarter in how they execute their business plans.
BBWN: Cloud is, of course, so interwoven across the access network, storage, security, analytics -- how do you address this?
DO: As we're software-enabling the network, we're providing customers ways to connect to cloud environments in a much more on-demand and dynamic fashion, which is going to be critical to the cloud. Any kind of migration to the cloud is going to have significant impacts on the network design and how data flows are structured and the security parameters around that; how do security procedures change? That whole consulting engagement, understanding the network and security and how it interplays with the cloud, is one of our strengths.
BBWN: AT&T has been focusing on edge computing recently. Can you explain, please?
DO: Edge is becoming a significant part of our business. We just launched, within our division, a group called Intelligent Edge. When you look at the lines between private, public and edge, they're quickly blurring, yet they play a critical role in how we process data and information and provide customers with that near real-time experience when interacting with these devices. I read that for an average consumer who visits a retail website, if the website doesn't load within three seconds, half of their potential buyers will ditch that website. It's critical these things happen in near real-time and edge computing allows companies to do that.
BBWN: In a world of smart homes and smartphones, how are enterprises looking to mirror the consumer experience?
DO: [Currently] if you want multiple business applications, you buy multiple pieces of hardware, and you've got equipment stacked from the raised floor up to the roof. We're trying to change that game with virtual networks functions that sit on the edge, which allow customers to buy white boxes that can download these applications at will based on their demands.
We see this in the consumer space. Your smartphone has essentially become your camera, your flashlight, any applications you want to download you have easy access to it with the click of a button. There's no reason our business applications shouldn't be the same way -- being able to pull those applications down from the cloud and interact with those devices in near real-time is going to be critical to companies' success in the future.
BBWN: Do you find yourself working with different executives within businesses, not just IT, now they're equipped with gigabit connections?
DO: You have multiple leaders across many different companies who have certain agendas and business drivers they have to meet. Companies are looking at how to more effectively market to customers, and there are applications out there that tap into external data sources, social networking, plugging into back-end IT systems, trying to work that 365-degree view of your customer so you can provide a much more personalized experience.
Those types of purchasing decisions aren't necessarily going to be made by a director sitting over in the IT shop, buying equipment. They're looking potentially at cloud service providers that can aggregate data across internal and external systems. It's going to continually involve ensuring our salesforce is adequately trained to involve decision makers that we traditionally weren't aligned with. It's going to be key to our success as well as any other company's success.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter