Dell Technologies, IBM and Microsoft are developing cloud, edge, 5G strategies

Operators have, across the board, acknowledged the importance of edge computing in delivering a differentiated, revenue-generating 5G service. There have also been a number of trials in key mobile markets. But, given the trajectory of network investment and product development, we’re not quite there yet–more in an ideation, strategy stage. Cloud and IT providers, already deeply involved in the enterprise (including telco) market and sensing a chance to bolster sales across the board with the move the edge, have developed fairly complete edge narratives that incorporate 5G and hybrid cloud computing. 

Be on the lookout for strategic and messaging commonalities. Among them, the role of ecosystem development in delivering semi-bespoke systems that combine cellular, compute and IoT to meet the specific needs of vertical industries. Artificial intelligence is another big one; in the march to automate everything, AI-based decision making requires data processing very close to the data source. And then there’s cloud. Edge clouds don’t take utility away from centralized clouds, rather augment the latter’s scale with the former’s geography. And with private network interest and adoption on the uptick, some vendors are pursuing a two-pronged strategy: sell edge compute to operators who then sell it to enterprises and also sell directly to enterprises who are investing in private networks. 

Dell Technologies

The real opportunity for meaningful new revenue creation for telcos comes from the type of real-time services that require the combination of 5G and edge computing–things like vehicle automation, precision robotics, mission critical AI applications and mobile virtual reality. This shift to totally new types of services is the 5G promise–a new era of enterprise enablement and connected consumer experiences. 

“Cloud services will extend onto premises of enterprise and SMB, but the central offices and backhaul aggregation sites, even the cell will become the edge of the telco network,” Kevin Shatzkamer, VP/GM of Service Provider Solutions, Dell Technologies, explained.

He continued: “I think that’s where it needs to be made – there are just some services that are not conducive to massively-scaled centralized data centers. They are too immersive, too real-time, and too data-intensive. If you look at the new services that 5G is going to enable, built on a new mobile architecture, the edge is where the play is. It’s where service providers, our partners, can differentiate themselves and it’s going to create a lot of new opportunities for them.” 

Dell Technologies has a variety of edge products tailored for both operator and enterprise needs, including ruggedized units designed for deployment in challenging environmental conditions and modular data centers 

To better understand the telco view on virtualization and edge opportunities, as well the level of co-creation necessary to deliver enterprise 5G services, take a look at how Orange Business Services is working with Dell Technologies and Ekinops to develop a universal CPE platform targeted on medium- and large-sized enterprises. The idea is to use Dell Technologies OEM Embedded and Edge Solutions hardware and Ekinops middleware to simplify site connectivity and virtualized network management. The enterprise user will be able to remotely install virtualized network functions at any site and run functions, including routers, firewalls, SD-WAN and WAN optimization on the single uCPE. 

 “Our global enterprise customers require increased flexibility in terms of connectivity solutions and infrastructure optimization. This uCPE solution…will give enterprises further choice in terms of deployment and reinforces our ecosystem-based approach. We believe that flexible solutions such as these are essential for customers looking to run an increasing number of services at the edge,” said Anne-Marie Thiollet, Vice President, Connectivity Business Unit, Orange Business Services.

Keeping with this idea of what Thiollet called an “ecosystem-based approach,” Dell Technologies has partnered with system integrator World Wide Technology to open a 5G-focused Center of Excellence in St. Louis, Missouri. The facility will “accelerate the deployment of complex, multi-vendor, open source solutions for the service provider industry,” according to WWT. The company said the CoE will initially explore mobile edge computing, the internet of things, telco cloud, data analytics and NFV.

Implementing its enterprise-edge strategy, BT is using the Dell Virtual Edge Platform family of uCPEs–achieving hardware consolidation and service flexibility at distributed consumer locations while cutting back on the need for dedicated servers and appliances. BT will use the technology to offer managed services, including on-prem network functions virtualization and support for IoT and IT applications. Scott Cowling, global network solutions director for BT, said, with Dell’s Virtual Edge Platform, “We are providing not only choice, but also ways to de-risk technology decisions and speed up and remove complexity from their global network service deployments.” 


IBM during its recent Think Digital conference discussed the intersection of 5G, edge computing and hybrid-cloud computing models. The company laid out its new IBM Edge Ecosystem–characterized as focused on bringing “open standards-based cloud native solutions that can be deployed and autonomously managed at the edge at massive scale”– along with new edge and related solutions geared toward both carriers and enterprises. 

The notion of ecosystem development is a recurring part of the edge conversation. The idea is that a diversity of technologies and use cases need to be developed, requiring buy-in and coordination between not just technology vendors and network operators but also the end users who have unique problems. Similar technology can be brought to bear for AI-based video analytics for manufacturing quality control and access control for a commercial high-rise, but the buyer will have specific requirements related to its own IT structure, desired outcome, security and so forth. 

Writing about the IBM Edge Ecosystem in a recent blog, Evaristus Mainsah, GM of the Cloud Paks Ecosystem, noted that, “making the promise of edge a reality requires an open ecosystem with diverse participants.” The goal of its ecosystem development play is enable customers “to move data and applications seamlessly between private data centers, hybrid multi-cloud environments and the edge…IBM business partners can help their clients take advantage of 5G while acting on insights closer to where data is created by people, places and things.”

Specific edge products announced at IBM Think Digital include: 

  • IBM Edge Application Manager to operate AI, analytics and IoT workloads; a single administrator can manage up to 10,000 edge nodes at the same time, according to the company.
  • A range of edge apps and services for sets of vertical use cases, including IBM Visual Insights, IBM Production Optimization, IBM Connected Manufacturing, IBM Asset Optimization, IBM Maximo Worker Insights and IBM Visual Inspector.
  • And the IBM Telco Network Cloud Manager for automated orchestration of virtualized network functions. 

Core to the edge value proposition is near real-time ability to process data, largely data collected from IoT devices which run the gamut from HD cameras and motion sensors to drones and manufacturing robotics. Point being, 5G is complex and enabling the edge through a combination of distributed and centralized computing resources is just another vector of complexity. 

As IBM’s Marisa Viveros, vice president of strategy and offerings, Telecom, Media and Entertainment Industry, IBM Industry Platform, put it in a blog, in order to deliver innovative new 5G services, service providers “need to act quickly as 5G becomes more available…As we advance into the world of 5G, providers will need to transform their networks into hybrid multi-cloud platforms that can support large volumes of data and that can rapidly adapt to new challenges.” 

To get an idea of what this looks like in practice, IBM is working Singaporean carrier M1 and Samsung to trial 5G for manufacturing, including the use of AI and augmented reality for things like video analytics and predictive maintenance. Singapore has identified several key verticals for 5G adoption — including healthcare, manufacturing and maritime — and has set aside SG$40 million to develop the necessary supporting infrastructure and ecosystem.

Reflecting on IBM’s telco cloud and edge announcements in a piece published by Forbes, Will Townsend, senior analyst, Carriers and Enterprise Networking, at Moor Insights and Strategy, described the company’s goal as creating “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.” 


In a recent earnings call, preceded by its acquisition of virtualized Evolved Packet Core specialist Affirmed Networks, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella provided insight into the company’s ambitions around supporting 5G applications at the network edge. From a product perspective, this encompassed Azure Edge Zones and Azure Private Edge Zones, former meant to connect directly to 5G networks and the latter a private LTE/5G network combined with on-premises Azure Stack Edge.

Nadella said Microsoft has “the only cloud that extends to the edge, with consistency across operating models, development environments, and infrastructure stack.” He said Azure Edge Zones and 5G will “enable immersive, real-time experiences that require ultra-low latency. And our acquisition of Affirmed Networks will help operators deploy and maintain 5G networks and services cost effectively and securely.”

For some time now, Microsoft has been working with operators on integrating edge computing capabilities with 5G networks and Azure cloud services, with AT&T being one of the company’s most notable 5G partners. At Mobile World Congress in 2019, AT&T announced its partnership with Microsoft for the development of a proof of concept to integrate network edge compute capabilities using its 5G network in conjunction with Azure cloud services, a solution that both company’s characterized as important for IoT use cases in a number of industries including retail, healthcare, public safety, entertainment, and manufacturing.

Nadella said the edge zones initiative and Affirmed acquisition “speaks to I think what is going to be the secular infrastructure architecture going forward. It’s not just about migrating off-premise, but it’s going to be able to have an architecture that supports the needs where edge compute is increasingly going to be very important.”

In a blog post on the Azure Edge Zones strategy, Microsoft Corporate VP, Azure Networking, Yousef Khalidi laid out the big picture. “Cloud, edge computing, and IoT are making strides to transform whole industries and create opportunities that weren’t possible just a few years ago. With the rise of 5G mobile connectivity, there are even more possibilities to deliver immersive, real-time experiences that have demanding, ultra-low latency, and connectivity requirements. 5G opens new frontiers with enhanced mobile broadband up to 10x faster, reliable low-latency communication, and very high device density up to 1 million devices per square kilometer.”

For carriers, Microsoft called out opportunities around online gaming, remote meetings and events and smart infrastructure. Target verticals for the Azure Private Edge Zones, as delineated in the blog post, include IoT for smart factories, logistics and operations, and connected health care.

Analyst Jim Patterson posed the provocative question, “Is Microsoft the new Ericsson?,” concluding that the company is positioning itself to play a bigger role in telecom. Beyond the Affirmed acquisition and the edge zones, “There’s a lot more to do to compete with Ericsson,” Patterson wrote. He said, “it’s unlikely that Microsoft would focus its energies on integrating LTE into 5G (they might start with private networks that only interoperate at the 5G level using the 5G standalone or SA standard).  But Microsoft is definitely taking steps to replace traditional telecom infrastructure providers and firmly detach operating systems from hardware. And they have $137 billion in cash and marketable securities on their balance sheet, a global presence, and the ear of every Fortune 1000 Global CIO.”

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