At Microsoft, we're excited to announce the public preview of Azure Operator Nexus. This is an expansion of the Azure Operator Distributed Services private preview. Azure Operator Nexus is a hybrid, carrier-grade cloud platform designed for the specific needs of the operator in running network functions such as packet core, virtualized radio access networks (vRAN), subscriber data management, and billing policy. Azure Operator Nexus is a first-party Microsoft product that builds on the functionality of its predecessor, adding essential features of key Microsoft technologies such as Mariner Linux, Hybrid AKS, and Arc while continuing to leverage Microsoft Services for security, lifecycle management, Observability, DevOps and automation.
Azure Operator Nexus has already been released to our flagship customer, AT&T, and the results have been incredibly positive. Now, we're selectively working with operators for potential deployments around the world. In this blog post, we provide an overview of the service from design and development to deployment and also discuss benefits the customers can expect, including research and analysis into the total cost of ownership (TCO).
Microsoft Azure Operator Nexus leverages cloud technology to modernize and monetize operator network investments to deliver benefits such as:
Azure Operator Nexus is a purpose-built service for hosting carrier-grade network functions. The service is specifically designed to bring carrier-grade performance and resiliency to traditional cloud infrastructures. Azure Operator Nexus delivers operator mobile core and vRAN network functions securely in on-premises (far-edge, near-edge, core datacenters) and on-Azure regions. This delivers a rich Azure experience, including visibility into logging, monitoring, and alerting for infrastructure components and workloads. Operators will have a consistent environment across both on-premises and Azure regions, allowing network function workloads to move seamlessly from one location to another based on application needs and economics.
Whether deployed on-premises or in Azure infrastructure, network functions may access an identical set of platform capabilities. On-premises, the service uses a curated hardware BOM of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based servers, network switches, dedicated storage arrays, and terminal servers. Both deployment models are Linux-based, in alignment with network function needs, telecommunications industry trends, and relevant open-source communities. Additionally, the service supports both virtualized network functions (VNFs) and containerized network functions (CNFs).
The Azure Operator Nexus is based on the experience of a large telecommunications operator that has spent the past seven years virtualizing more than 75 percent of its network and overcoming the scale challenges of network-function virtualization. From this deep networking and virtualization experience, Operator Nexus was designed to:
In addition to the performance-enhancing features, Azure Operator Nexus also includes a fully integrated solution of software-defined networking (SDN), low latency storage, and an integrated packet broker. The connectivity between the Operator premises and Azure leverages Express Route Local capabilities to address the transfer of large volumes of operational data in a cost-effective manner.
One of the key benefits of a hybrid cloud infrastructure is its ability to provide harmonized observability for both infrastructure and applications. This means one can easily monitor and troubleshoot any issues that may arise, ensuring systems are running smoothly and efficiently. The platform collects logs, metrics, and traces from network function virtualization infrastructure (NFVI) and network functions (NFs). It also offers a rich analytical, AI/ML-based toolset to develop descriptive and prescriptive analytics. Our goal with this observability architecture is to securely bring all operator data into a single data lake where it can be processed to provide a global-network view and harvested for operational and business insights.
Moreover, we are committed to fostering a partner ecosystem that accelerates the availability of new capabilities for Azure while ensuring operators own the underlying data. This allows operators to harness the power of data with broad analytics and tools so they can develop better insights faster.
Security is a top priority in any telco-grade cloud solution. Azure Operator Nexus incorporates Azure security services, controls, and capabilities and is available to empower operators to address the multidimensional 5G end-to-end (E2E) attack surfaces.
Two models of deployment are supported: On-premises and Public Region. In the On-premises scenario, operators can purchase the hardware from Microsoft partners. In the Public Region scenario, Microsoft provides the infrastructure and allows the Operator to consume the resources on-demand.
The following provides a reference design for the deployment of 5GC on Operator Premises with Azure Operator Nexus. In this scenario, the operator is deploying Operator Nexus in its centralized data centers to run OSS/BSS, its Subscriber and Policy subsystems, and in its distributed data centers that run Mobility and Gateway subsystems.
Alternatively, the operator could choose to run OSS/BSS and subscriber and policy management subsystems on Operator Nexus that are hosted on Azure locations while running mobility and gateway functions on Azure Operator Nexus that is deployed on-premises.
Deploying a platform like Azure Operator Nexus sets a business up for success in several ways:
Analysys Mason, in collaboration with Microsoft, analyzed the TCO of deploying a cloud-native 5G SA network using Azure Operator Nexus, comparing it to the TCO of the do-it-yourself (DIY) private-cloud model.
The 5-year model shows that the Azure Operator Nexus on-premises scenario has a TCO for cloud-native 5G SA deployments that is up to 38 percent lower than the DIY private-cloud model.
The main driver of the cost savings is the reduction in operating expenditures (OpEx) enabled by the more automated, efficient cloud infrastructure and container network functions (CNF) operations. Both of these are supported by Azure Operator Nexus' comprehensive cloud platform and as-a-service operations model.
Analysys Mason's research and interviews with large Tier-1 operators reveal that operators face significant challenges when it comes to managing their private clouds and on-premises data centers. Overcoming these DIY challenges leads to high operating expenses in terms of staffing and tools. Our model also shows that Azure Operator Nexus' consistent, comprehensive cloud environment, automation framework, and managed service capabilities reduce repetitive, error-prone tasks for the main cloud-native network operations by 58 percent. The result is an OpEx savings of up to 36 percent compared to the DIY private-cloud model.
Azure Operator Nexus delivers a comprehensive ecosystem of certified network functions through the Azure Operator Nexus Ready program. The program employs Azure Operator Service Manager, a companion service that gives consistent and scalable NF deployment experience for CNFs and VNFs from multiple network-function vendors. Once the network function is certified through the Azure Operator Nexus Ready program, operators can instantiate the 5G network functions directly from a centralized Azure Operator Nexus Ready catalog.
The Ready program enables:
The program also includes system integrators (SIs) who are trained and certified to deliver horizontal- and vertical-Integration services to the operators.
As we have seen here, Microsoft Azure helps operators modernize networks by running communication workloads on our AI-enabled, carrier-grade, hybrid cloud platform. Azure Operator Nexus is a future-proof, flexible infrastructure that drives simplicity, scalability, and cost efficiency. It’s built from the ground up to run workloads with resiliency, security, and observability while also meeting the unique performance demands of operators.
By constructing and maintaining private cloud infrastructures for operators, the Azure hybrid-cloud platform dramatically simplifies the provisioning of new network services. This is accomplished by coordinating and optimizing the deployment of network functions and applications on the operator's premises or the public cloud. The result is a highly-automated, self-optimizing, software-defined network that can heal, defend, and provision itself.
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