In June 2021, Microsoft and AT&T reached an important milestone than we did announced an industry-first collaboration Evolve Microsoft’s hybrid cloud technology to support AT & T’s 5G core network workloads. Since then we have received requests from many operators, partners and customers to provide further details. This blog is meant to do just that.

Future-oriented innovation at a glance: Using the power of the cloud

Through Azure for operators, Microsoft has forged strong relationships with AT&T employees, product service groups, and partners. At the heart of the value Microsoft delivers in each of these relationships is how we leverage the power of the cloud to improve the next generation of telecommunications networks. Microsoft wants to leverage the trends towards Software Defined Networking (SDN), Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNFs) and Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) in conjunction with the service-based architecture of 5G to begin the digital transformation of the network.

This evolution includes adopting hybrid infrastructure and software, building scalable, elastic, carrier-grade networks, and harnessing the power of AI and machine learning to build self-optimizing networks that can self-repair, defend, and deploy. These efforts will allow operators to hyper-automate the business themselves, reduce costs, and improve the overall service experience. Azure for Operators is a series of investments Microsoft is making to bring the power of the cloud to the network.

Many of the advantages that Microsoft has provided in the corporate sector are directly applicable in the network sector. First, however, they have to be modified in order to meet the special requirements of the operator at the carrier level. Our efforts are aimed at ensuring that the workloads on the network function in a carrier-grade cloud, a hybrid cloud, which includes both public and dedicated on-premises cloud infrastructures. Telecommunications services are widely distributed and are likely to become more so over time. The value of a carrier-class hybrid cloud model therefore lies in its ability to meet customers where they are – on the edge of the cloud, on the edge of the network, or on the edge of the business.

The progress of the acquisition

In 2013, AT&T took an aggressive stance on Software Defined Networks (SDNs) and virtualization, with the ultimate goal of having 75 percent of their network virtualized technology by 2020, which they succeeded in doing. Back then, there was no commercial cloud option that contained the features and capabilities necessary to enable a carrier-grade cloud. AT&T has developed a standards-based implementation of the cloud technology that has been deployed in their local data centers. This initially integrated cloud has evolved into a network cloud, and today we have arrived at Network Cloud 2.7, which represents seven years of experience developing a local cloud for network workloads.

With Microsoft’s recent acquisition of this technology, AT & T’s Network Cloud organization development teams moved to Azure for Operators to integrate intellectual property directly into a Microsoft offering and ensure a seamless transition.

There are three main reasons this collaboration is unique. For starters, this is the first time a tier-one operator has used commercial hybrid cloud technology to run mobility network workloads that support its existing customer base. The second unique aspect is that efforts are completely focused on the mobility core network and not on go-to-market collaborations at the edge. And thirdly, the arrangement is manufacturer-independent. Microsoft’s hybrid cloud technology supports AT & T’s core mobile network, which includes more than 60 cloud-native network functions (CNFs) and virtual network functions (VNFs) from 15 different providers.

What the takeover of the Network Cloud means

Network Cloud technology originally developed by AT&T can be used by multiple network operators to ensure security without losing differentiation, and with the added benefit of many costs such as security patches, provider updates and regulatory changes as part of a commercial Standard product.

These capabilities are combined with Microsoft’s Edge platform, our hybrid management platform Azure Arc and our partner ecosystem, including device providers, hardware and software providers. By joining the Network Cloud with our platform and growing ecosystem, we have created a carrier-class hybrid cloud solution that is provided as the Azure for Operators platform.

An important aspect of this collaboration is our respective roles – Microsoft is developing the carrier-grade hybrid cloud technology that supports the workloads of AT&T Mobility Core Networks. AT&T continues to select and manage the network applications (VNFs and CNFs) and their configurations to provide mobility services to AT&T customers. Therefore, we take over the AT&T Network Cloud technology, build it into the standard hybrid cloud product from Microsoft and then deliver a hybrid cloud solution of the carrier class back to the market and AT&T itself, where it does at AT&T Can be run on-site or on-site in the Azure public cloud. Microsoft’s hybrid cloud technology supports the AT&T mobility core network workloads used to provide 5G connectivity that supports consumers, businesses and the FirstNet responder community. In terms of security, it is important to note that Microsoft does not access AT&T customer data – AT&T still retains access to this data and Microsoft cannot see it.

This collaboration enables AT&T to deliver new services faster and more flexibly in the public Azure cloud and locally with common tools and services, thereby shortening the time-to-market for a cloud-native approach. We believe the result will be better resilience across the network, cost benefits in scaling existing services, and more effective rollout of new services, all of which will lead to continuous improvement in the customer experience.

Learn more

Takeover of AT & T’s Network Cloud by Microsoft and Metaswitch networks and Confirmed networks, brings the anchor applications and telecommunications know-how to develop the functions required for a carrier-grade hybrid cloud. These functions, which are available to the entire partner ecosystem, contribute to an open, interoperable network that offers support to all operators. The message from Microsoft to the operators is simple and straightforward: your partners and your customers – and the relationship is supported by our technology. For more information on the Azure for Operators strategy, see e-book.

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