VMware’s profile in wireless rises as operators move toward virtualization

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VMware recently joined AT&T, China Mobile and other operators as a founding member of the Open Network Automation Platform Project.

VMware isn’t exactly new to the mobile telecom space, but its profile is rising thanks to the industry’s drive to SDN and especially NFV.

Founded in 1998, VMware is now a subsidiary of Dell Technologies that provides cloud computing and platform virtualization software and services. It has been described as the first commercially successful company to virtualize the x86 architecture.

But it didn't traditionally put a lot of focus on the direct requirements of mobile communication carriers, fixed carriers or cable operators. Now, however, “from my point of view, that’s fundamentally changed,” and VMware in the last year or so has been targeting this specific vertical, said Patrick Kelly, founder and principal analyst at Appledore Research Group.

According to Appledore, VMware's vSphere and NSX solutions have enjoyed significant market penetration in both the enterprise and telecommunication market segments. The VRealize suite provides the life cycle management of a hybrid cloud and is used as the virtual manager in many NFVi domains where VNF technology partners use VMware's cloud platform, the firm says.

Certainly, VMware is stepping up its efforts in the telco space, where its main competitor tends to be Red Hat. But identifying competition can be a tricky endeavor, as a lot of companies in this space end up partnering in some areas and competing in others. 

In October 2015, VMware launched its first fully packaged offering for telcos, vCloud NFV solution and vCloud Ready for NFV partner certification program. In November 2016, the company formalized its VMware Telco Group and named Shekar Ayyar as the executive VP and GM to run the group.

In March 2017, VMware launched the second-generation VMware vCloud NFV 2.0 solution at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The company now has more than 80 production deployments for NFV, and in May, it announced its first IoT offering, VMware Pulse IoT Center.

Historically, the company has served the IT side of the house, including telecom service providers, but in the past 24 months or so, it’s seen a pretty sharp uptick in its presence inside service providers on the network side, according to Ayyar. It’s also seeing more service providers display a willingness to transform their networks to virtualized infrastructure.

But one of the misconceptions VMware is often faced with is the idea that there’s an open architecture out there that competes with VMware. Case in point: OpenStack is often pointed out as competition for VMware, when in fact, “that is not true,” Ayyar told FierceWirelessTech.

VMware’s architecture is inclusive of OpenStack, so “we will go to the customer and we will basically tell him, look, here is all the goodness you can get by virtualizing your architecture and by the way, if you want to consume this in the form of OpenStack management and OpenStack APIs, here it is,” he said. “Whereas our competitors will often try to position this as VMware being a closed architecture and they’re having the open OpenStack solution.”

The short answer is “no,” it does not compete with open source. It does have proprietary components to its architecture that it monetizes as part of a full solution set, but, Ayyar contends, it actually ends up being the way service providers want it because there are areas where they don’t necessarily want to go in and create code from scratch or rely on the open source system at large.

VMware recently joined AT&T, China Mobile and other operators as a founding member of the Open Network Automation Platform Project, which resulted from the merger of open source ECOMP and Open Orchestrator Project, two of the largest open source networking initiatives. VMware says it is also a major participant in Open vSwitch and Open Source MANO.

Rajesh Ghai, research director of Telecom Network Infrastructure at IDC, said VMware is well positioned to compete in the 5G space as telecom operators look to virtualize their networks to support 5G. The VMware vCloud NFV is an ETSI-compliant fully integrated, modular and multitenancy NFV platform.

It's no slam-dunk, but chances are pretty good that the telco industry will be seeing a lot more of VMware.