RESEARCH NOTE: Cloud Networking, Telecommunications, And Security Service Standouts From Amazon, Google, And Microsoft

By Will Townsend - December 15, 2023
Cloud computing image via Pixexid, used under CC BY 4.0 license

The public cloud service providers are on a mission to monetize enterprise networking, telecommunications, and security services. The revenue opportunity in these areas is enormous for these hyperscalers, given the sheer momentum of migrations by enterprises and communication service providers aiming to leverage the scale and resilience of the cloud.

The added benefit to organizations that embrace cloud services is the ability to treat infrastructure as an operational expense. That is a significant consideration given recent macroeconomic inflationary pressures that have only recently begun to subside.

I spent considerable time with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft this year, both in analyst pre-briefings and at various industry events across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Sifting through hundreds of available cloud services to come up with the most valuable ones is a daunting task, but one that was worth tackling for this article. My goal here is to avoid calling a winner. Instead, I want to highlight what I believe are the most compelling cloud services from each company in networking, telecom, and security. With that in mind, let’s dig in.

Amazon Web Services

AWS is by far the most mature public cloud service provider, and over the past two decades, it has built a formidable leadership position in this market. At this year’s Re:Invent conference after the Thanksgiving holiday, the company pointed out that it has three times as many data centers as its closest rival (Microsoft Azure). AWS also claims it offers 50% more regional services and feature density. However, this has created a dizzying number of AWS offerings—at last count over 200. Still, let’s examine the following three offerings.

Networking: AWS announced the general availability of its VPC Lattice service in March. This is an application-layer networking service that connects computational services and enables users to configure network access, traffic management, and monitoring. What I find powerful is the ability to carry out these tasks easily across modern infrastructure that includes containers and serverless functions. I also like the granular visibility that VPC Lattice provides, given its ability to monitor and remediate service-to-service communications. Although API calls are not a direct comparison to the latter, they function similarly; problems with API calls are often difficult to detect and manage when they occur.

Telecommunications: AWS continues to offer a mature platform for mobile network operators and communication service providers, anchored by its 5G as a service. Re:Invent highlighted several efforts that demonstrate the company’s reach into enterprise and consumer use cases. SK Telecom, an early leader among public mobile network operators focusing on discrete 5G use cases, is partnering with AWS to help companies enhance productivity and operations through computer vision as a service. Computer vision can provide a host of functionalities, including security, inspection, and smart traffic control. Meanwhile, Vodafone is leveraging AWS to provide a real-time surgical collaboration platform with enhanced video training and data analytics. From a consumer standpoint, AWS is unlocking a host of use cases tied to enhancing sports and venue experiences, including a golf cart sports application with Verizon, a hockey in-venue fan activation with Rogers, and video broadcast over 5G with Orange, to name a few.

Security: AWS launched its Verified Access service in April. The pandemic and the need to work from anywhere exposed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of VPN solutions that have historically been used for remote access to corporate networks. The biggest concern with VPN is that it authenticates users to a flat network and potentially allows bad actors to move laterally and wreak havoc. Verified Access addresses this shortcoming by providing enterprises with VPN-less secure access to corporate applications built using AWS zero trust principles. Universal zero trust network access (ZTNA) is not new. Still, Amazon is taking it to new heights with real-time contextual signals, including identity and device posture, through a consolidated policy management framework.

Google Cloud Platform

GCP trails its competitors Amazon and Microsoft by most measures in cloud service availability, customer adoption, and market share. However, the company’s Cloud Next event in late August this year went far to help close the gap. 

Networking: At Cloud Next, GCP launched its Industry Value Networks. What I like about IVN is its pre-integrated solution approach that weaves in strategic partnerships. The platform initially focuses on supply chain, sustainability, and financial services. On the surface, the supply chain IVN has tremendous potential, given that it aims to deliver exceptional customer experiences using AI and cloud connectivity to improve forecasting, reduce costs, and maximize visibility. Those are the right areas to focus on given the highest initial perceived risk and need. Retail, healthcare, and life sciences are planned to follow early next year.

Telecommunications: GCP is partnering with Nokia to deliver a highly scalable Cloud RAN platform. First announced before the start of MWC Barcelona earlier this year, the platform’s underlying architecture facilitates running radio network access functions as software on the Google Distributed Cloud Edge platform. It is important to point out that GCP’s overall RAN strategy comprises four technology pillars: optimized cloud-native infrastructure, an integrated data fabric for advanced analytics, intent-based automation and control, and partnerships with RAN function providers. These are the correct fundamental elements to focus on, and if GCP can execute them, it should provide a solid foundation for long-term success.

Security: GCP offers a wide swath of security solutions that include a security foundation, risk and compliance as code, security analytics and operations, software supply chain, and web application and API protection. Google also offers its VCP Service Controls as a managed networking solution for Google Cloud resources. This solution prevents access to Google-managed services that fall outside of a designated network perimeter and provides an additional layer of protection for data. GCP’s security efforts seem aligned to its own cloud platform versus the broader multi-cloud deployment typical for many larger enterprises, but it is complete in its own right.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft continues to make great strides in providing cloud networking and security services through its Azure cloud platform. All in one week, I attended the virtual Ignite conference and spent time with NTT at its R&D Forum in Tokyo (It’s worth an honorable mention since it also touched on AI and cloud services), exercising my multitasking analyst superpowers!

Networking: At Microsoft Ignite in mid-November this year, the company announced the general availability of Azure Boost. Boost is a server virtualization process offload solution that frees CPU resources to improve overall performance. From a networking standpoint, Boost provides hardware and software networking systems that provide up to 200 Gbps of bandwidth. From a security perspective, Boost leverages Cerberus for an independent root of trust that delivers NIST-level certification. Boost provides what I deem as a “kitchen sink” feature set that enhances networking and security, but it’s important to note that AWS VPC Lattice also improves cloud security posture.

Telecommunications: Azure for Operators continues to mature its offerings, and Azure IoT Central stands out as a compelling service. On the surface, this platform may seem better aligned to networking. However, 5G is poised to make industrial IoT a reality, given its massive device support advantages compared to 4G and Wi-Fi. Given the reshoring of manufacturing and investment in semiconductor production in the United States, Azure is well-positioned to capitalize. IoT Central provides a UX and API surface for connecting and managing devices and sensors as well as a data delivery pipeline to facilitate actionable business insights. The architecture is rooted in a preconfigured platform as a service (PaaS), which could ease the configuration and deployment process.

Security: Azure Security Center offers a base level of security posture management, including on-premises deployment support through Azure Arc. It provides many features, including collecting event logs from Azure and other analytics agents. I especially like the no-cost tier that is bundled with every Azure subscription. It includes a network map with traffic routes and workloads, highlights which resources have potential severities, and makes proactive security recommendations across computing, data, identity access, and networking resources.

Supercharging Use Cases with Generative AI

I have touched on just a handful of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft cloud services across networking, telecommunications, and security. Considering the intense focus on generative AI over the past year, I expect that the cloud providers will leverage GAI next year to improve many of these offerings and create new ones with disruptive potential. Ultimately, bringing cloud connectivity for enterprises and communication service providers together with AI and edge computing should supercharge use cases and workload efficiency across every industry segment.

Will Townsend

Will Townsend manages the networking and security practices for Moor Insights & Strategy focused on carrier infrastructure providers, carrier services, enterprise networking and security. He brings over 30 years of technology industry experience in a variety of product, marketing, channel, business development and sales roles to his advisory position.