IBM’s Telco Cloud And Network Edge Journey

IBM

It has been almost a year since IBM closed its acquisition of Red Hat. I was initially skeptical of the announcement in the fall of 2018. Red Hat has been nimble and quick, disrupting the telco space with its Enterprise Linux, OpenStack, OpenShift, Cloudforms, and other open source platforms. I worried that Big Blue’s culture might derail Red Hat’s momentum. However, I have since changed my mind. My reevaluation was spurred in part by recent conversations with Marisa Viveros, who leads IBM’s Strategy and Solutions for Global Telecommunications, and by a number of announcements made this week at IBM Digital Think 2020. Let’s take a look into IBM’s strategy, which is rooted in cloudification and edge enablement.

Why should operators care?

Cloudification has the power to deliver the scale necessary to support unanticipated network demands. COVID-19 and work from home has definitely shed a light on the importance of the telco cloud, as operators around the world have seen unprecedented cellular network utilization. 5G promises to deliver quantum level improvements in the form of lower latency and faster throughput than 4G LTE, but the explosion of devices on networks requires the application of computing resources at data creation points to improve performance. This is where edge enablement can help unlock new use cases and disruption, especially in modernizing manufacturing or what is commonly referred to as Industry 4.0. Edge infrastructure will improve operator quality of service, reduce subscriber churn and create new monetization opportunities for operators that will help recoup the billions of dollars spent on building out next generation 5G networks.

Key IBM Think 2020 announcements and the potential impact  

IBM announced two new tools, two services and an edge ecosystem initiative at Digital Think 2020. IBM Telco Network Cloud Manager is a joint development effort between IBM and Red Hat. Itpromises to deliver needed scale for 5G deployments by leveraging AI-based automation and assurance capabilities. The solution is based on Red Hat OpenShift and aims to orchestrate virtualized and containerized network functions more effectively. This should be disruptive from an operating expense (OpEx) perspective, given its ability to free up operators to focus on more value-added subscriber services. IBM claims that it will reduce operational effort by 80%, but even if the reality is only half that amount it will still be significant.

Born out of the open source “Open Horizon” project, the new IBM Edge Application Manager facilitates the management of up to 10,000 nodes through a single pane of glass. Many of these edge devices are “headless” sensors that support industrial IoT applications and there has not been a great historical effort to standardize. As such, I believe that this new offering by IBM has the potential to greatly simplify the deployment and management effort at the edge.

The company also announced IBM Services for Edge Strategy and Transformation and IBM Services for Edge Applications. These services are designed to act as blueprints to speed operator deployment of 5G edge-enabled solutions that have the potential to drive disruption in manufacturing, supply chain management, and more. IBM has incredible depth from a services perspective, and I expect that operators will see the value. Lastly, IBM announced an edge ecosystem to speed adoption. The roster of participants is impressive, including the likes of Cisco, Dell Technologies, Intel, NVIDIA and Samsung, among others.

Wrapping up

I am really impressed with the speed in which IBM integrated Red Hat into its telco portfolio. I suspect that IBM’s appointment of former Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst as IBM President and Red Hat’s Chairman of the Board was instrumental in making this happen so quickly. Cloudification and edge enablement are significant tools that operators can leverage to provide needed capacity, better cost containment and new 5G services. It will be interesting to follow IBM and Red Hat on their telco cloud and edge journey.