The numbers vary greatly but expectations are always high; to quote just two examples: Analysys Mason forecasts that the total global cloud management market will generate revenue of 574 million USD in 2015; Gartner expects that this year’s Infrastructure as a Service segment will be roughly 6 billion USD.
There is no doubt that CSPs will re-organize their data centers using learning from cloud services to massively improve their own operational efficiency. The benefits -ranging from high scalability and flexibility to reduced capital and operating expenditure – are too seductive to be ignored. In the IT space, cloud offerings from Amazon, Google, Microsoft and most recently Apple with its iCloud are already on their way to becoming mainstream amongst millions of consumers. As smart devices gain traction in the market, they are also driving user demand for access to cloud-based applications. It’s just a matter of time before even telco applications, currently perceived as critical to their business, are delivered in a cloud environment. The exception might be some customer data centric applications where legal constraints prohibit export of those data outside a regional jurisdiction.
We recently successfully migrated our charge@once Unified Charging solution into a public cloud, and demonstrated to our customers how we would charge online using this solution simultaneous data sessions. This migration was by a small agile-working team in an amazingly fast timeframe, proving that our basic application design of our Unified solution is cloud ready.
Telco cloud in play?
Well, there are challenges for operators. We envision our customers organizing their computing centers in private clouds initially – utilizing the advantages of a protected environment and fully controlled hardware resources where typical telco requirements like high availability, low latency and high throughput can be achieved more easily than in a public cloud.
Vendors will be asked to deliver their application into this environment. The recent prototype of our Unified Charging and Billing server is a proof of concept under even more challenging conditions and it highlights the platform’s independency, extensibility and modularity of our Unified Charging and Billing suite. Implementation of the full elasticity to dynamically react to changing traffic will be the next step.
Challenges going forward
Our public cloud exercise revealed once more the major challenges of public cloud deployments: assuring high availability and low latency. There is a risk that the costs of dealing with the uncertainty of a badly defined cloud environment may eat into the genuine cloud benefits. Cloud providers will thus need to assume more stringent roles of responsibility to guarantee certain SLAs.
Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. During a recent breakdown in Amazon’s cloud offering, large companies like Netflix experienced almost no problems, architecting their use of Amazon Web Services in a way that made them largely immune to any visible service disruption. To put it bluntly: a public cloud is just another hosting services environment and we have to learn to deal with it.
Using the public cloud today
Presently, public cloud deployments can be used to address less demanding markets with solutions in areas like smart metering / eEnergy. For critical telco apps like charging, there is still some work to be done, but we believe that the technology is evolving quickly, enabling public cloud providers to eventually offer some types of SLAs / QoS in the future, and enabling telco providers to design reliable cloud-based software.
This blog post is by Rick Centeno, head of Charging, Billing and Care.