Vodafone: “a cloud that can” from a company with a plan

PAC recently attended a cloud briefing with Vodafone. Although the brand is most highly visible for its B2C and B2B mobile services, Vodafone’s enterprise business focuses on the overall telecommunications and IT needs of Enterprise (MNCs, National and SME) - clients. That’s a pretty broad scope – the whole gamut of voice, data, mobile, UC, cybersecurity, IoT and cloud – and the market Vodafone is targeting puts it right up against some of the largest telcos (BT, Deutsche Telecom, France Telecom) as well as regional operators such as Interoute.

In terms of cloud, Vodafone’s initiatives (which have the strapline “a cloud that can”) have been far less visible than many of its competitors – BT’s Cloud of Clouds, and OBS’s and T-Systems cloud services (both delivered in partnership with Huawei) – all have greater Enterprise mindshare than Vodafone’s cloud.

Vodafone is keen to challenge these perceptions, and the company’s vision of its future, which is known as “Gigabit Vodafone for the Gigabit Society”, comprises a hyper-connected world powered by IoT and enabled by optical networks, 5G cellular, and cloud. To deliver this vision, cloud has been prioritised within Vodafone, and the company has been busy creating new cloud partnerships.

Third-party cloud providers are critical to the strategy because many of Vodafone’s customers want to single-source their connectivity and cloud. Vodafone is more realistic than most telcos, and doesn’t want to build a public cloud - that race has already been run. Instead it is focusing on that customer desire to single-source network and cloud IT, and is busy connecting its owned networks (terrestrial and cellular) with the leading cloud providers. It already offers Alibaba (public cloud IaaS) and Virtustream (scale up cloud for monolithic apps, especially SAP). By end-2017 it also plans to offer Vodafone-enabled AWS and Azure, with plans for Azure Stack (a key enabler of hybrid solutions for windows shops) in 2018. While some might question the order in which cloud partners are being signed (PAC estimates put AWS and Azure far ahead of Alibaba in Europe and Americas), partnering with the hyperscalers definitely makes more sense than trying to beat them.

Vodafone is also realistic about how much traction can be achieved with public cloud alone, and understands that for many years to come, most Enterprises will run with public / private multiclouds. Vodafone has solid VMware-based private cloud capabilities which are already connected to the Vodafone networks. It has also partnered with IBM , to take advantage of the “IBM Cloud for VMware Solutions” capability announced a year ago. This is a more tactical capability than the future hyperscale alliances, but it has immediately increased the geographic footprint from which Vodafone can deliver its existing private cloud capability – increasingly important as data residency concerns grow around the world

In parallel, Vodafone has already created repeatable solutions that aim to turn its global private network into a differentiating USP. Focusing on its ability to integrate cloud services with its private network (think performance, security, global connectivity etc.), Vodafone has chosen IoT and SAP for its first specialist cloud services, with plans for UC and VDI in future. The IoT and SAP focus makes sense, as both require heavy performance and integration and are also huge drivers of growth for cloud consumption. Today the company offers SAP cloud services delivered on its Virtustream-based platform, and HANA migration and managed services delivered from its SAP centre of excellence. For IoT, Vodafone offers an end-to-end analytics capability that spans device management, data management and analytics support.

Overall Vodafone’s plan seems to cover most of the bases, strengthening existing capabilities, adding partnerships with leading hyperscalers in the near future, and maintaining the ability to integrate colo or managed hosting for legacy systems. There are a couple of possible omissions (GCP for data services, Microsoft private clouds for Windows shops?) but nothing that couldn’t be added over time. Overall, PAC believes that Vodafone is on the right path, with a solid strategy. The only questions are how robustly it can execute the strategy, and whether it can do so quickly enough to keep its installed base of network customers loyal.