Riding the data wave

A surge in data brings opportunities as well as challenges for operators
Pat Gelsinger, president and COO of EMC's information infrastructure products dvision (left) attended EMC's telecommunications summit with Mohammed Am
Pat Gelsinger, president and COO of EMC's information infrastructure products dvision (left) attended EMC's telecommunications summit with Mohammed Am

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The surge of data on networks around the world has been well documented, but a factor that is less discussed is the apparent inability of networks – at least in their current form – to cope with the enormous growth of data.

According to IDC, over the next decade the world will generate 50 times the amount of information compared with now, while the number of IT staff to manage it will grow by less than 1.5 times.

This presents a major challenge for IT companies and telecom operators, who will be forced to cope with the rise in data while keeping a lid on capex and opex.

The data surge was a major focus at EMC Corporation’s ninth annual Telecommunications Summit, which was held in Dubai in April.

However, apart from putting the extent of the challenge facing the ICT industry in the coming years, speakers at the event also shed light on the opportunities that the data surge offers.

Indeed, while telcos frequently complain about the burden presented by massive amounts of traffic, and particularly mobile data, on their networks, they are also ideally placed to offer various services to help businesses and consumers handle their data better. And according to EMC, areas such as cloud computing and data analytics are chief among these opportunities.

“We are seeing an explosion of enterprise data, and this is presenting businesses with both a problem and a phenomenal opportunity,” says Pat Gelsinger, president and COO of EMC’s information infrastructure products division. “A new scale-out architecture is required that is able both to gather that data and to ready it for the powerful new analysis and visualisation tools that are changing the way we make our decisions. Big data presents big opportunities, transforming what organisations do and delivering greater value, results and business impact to the markets that they serve.”

But while most operators in the region see the value of cloud-based services and some are already taking their first steps in this area, many challenges remain for telcos in terms of deploying these services and monetising them.

Mohammed Amin, senior vice president, EMC, Turkey, Emerging Africa and East Africa, says that as telcos face the twin challenge of increasing data on their networks amid flattening revenues, the need to offer new services is vital. And he sees cloud-based services and data analytics as potentially lucrative areas for operators to become involved in.

“Most operators must go down the route of adapting cloud computing to be able to launch different services to increase revenue streams and go back into growth mode,” he says. “This will allow them to launch more services in a good time to market to be ahead of their competitors.”

Types of cloud

Within the broad term “cloud” there are many different types of services that operators can offer, according to Amin. “You can launch software as a service, storage as a service, disaster recovery, hosting for major enterprises, data analytics as a service – so within the cloud services there are so many services that can be launched,” he says.

But what are the main cloud services being offered by Middle East telecos? Amin says that it remains too early to tell. He says that at present, most operators are still busy with the task of getting more data streams to cater to the demand of subscribers, who are using ever more data.

However, Amin adds that it is not too late for operators in the region to begin adapting their networks and operations to offer cloud services and data analytics. EMC, which works with operators to help them develop the infrastructure to offer cloud services and to run the services, is poised to help telcos, Amin says.

The first task when working with an operator is to build the infrastructure to cater for cloud services, according to Amin. “You need to change dramatically the way you build your infrastructure and that is what we do with our telecom customers. We study their infrastructure and we take them to the journey of the cloud computing – virtualisation and then the whole journey of cloud computing,” he says. “It’s not only about caching, it is the whole nine yards: storage, the virtualisation layer, how you virtualise and consolidate your server.”

Data analytics

Another key component of managing data is data analytics, and this is also an area that operators must consider, according to Amin. Data analytics allows operators to gain a greater understanding of the data on their networks, and so help them to monetise it.

“It means a big deal because with the huge data they have in their networks right now they will not be able to do anything significant to increase the revenue with this data without a good data analytics solution,” Amin says. “This will allow them to understand the data and their customers’ behaviour.”

Gelsinger adds that operators are currently missing out in this area. “Today much of that data is largely just being transported across their [operators’] networks and they are not adding any value to it,” he says. “This is expensive traffic because they see a lot of data but do not monetise it in many ways, so we find ways we can make it more efficient for them.

“For example, we can create environments where data ends up being cached and the operators are able to move that data more effectively across their network,” Gelsinger adds. “So they can push it to the edge of the network and save substantially on their infrastructure costs. They don’t have to backhaul everything going through the network, which is in many cases the primary determinate of networking cost. We can help them to more intelligently deliver that data.”

Gelsinger adds that EMC also aims to help operators see if there are ways they can target customers more effectively. “Can we utilise that big data in a way that they can market services, deliver more value and services on top of the data,” he says. “That might be for vertical industries, or it might be for consumers.”

Furthermore, Gelsinger adds that telecom operators are ideally placed to offer these services to their enterprise customers, not only because they operate the networks, but also because they have an established relationship with their customers.

“Being able to monetise your services and build value from that explosion of data – we see the telecom industry as central to that because much of that data is on their networks,” he says.

Regional growth

In terms of EMC’s business in the Middle East, Amin says that growth is significant. There are perhaps more opportunities in the Middle East owing to the fact that many of the operators in the region held telecom monopolies, which means that as they face growing competition, they need more assistance to diversify their businesses in order to compete more effectively.

“Our business as EMC with the mobile operators addressing the cloud and big data is growing very strongly, with double digit growth and we enjoy a huge market share in the region,” Amin goes on to say. “Most of the operators are EMC customers and about 35-40% of our revenue in the Middle East.” Gelsinger adds that on a global basis, EMC’s largest customer base is financial services, followed by telecoms.

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