3 tier architecture leaves Telco unprepared for 5G and the future

By Chris Welburn

Telcos cannot meet the demands of customers with their existing infrastructure

Three-tier enterprise cloud computing platforms are not fit for purpose in the modern telecommunications business. As telcos roll out 5G connectivity, there will be an increased burden on the enterprise technology infrastructure. 

5G needs a faster and better infrastructure to deliver a faster and better mobile connectivity service to customers. With forecasters predicting that, by the end of this decade, 50 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be connected to the net, network operators will need a robust infrastructure that delivers always-on connectivity and great service. Additional benefits of 5G include robust infrastructure that delivers always-on connectivity, as well as great service with security, scalability, and seamless integration to a vibrant partner ecosystem.  It is not surprising, therefore, that technology analysts at Gartner recently stated: “The three-tier application architecture is obsolete and no longer meets the needs of modern applications.”  

The three-tier application architecture is obsolete and no longer meets the needs of modern applications.



For many telecommunications network providers, their networks (particularly at the edge) are already overloaded; the arrival of IoT devices will only increase the pressure, making it even more difficult to deliver a quality service. If telcos are to provide the quality of service customers expect, while also seeing a return on investment (ROI) from developing 5G networks, they will need to move away from legacy three-tier architecture. The access-layer switches feeding into aggregation-layer devices cannot cope with the data burden of IoT and distributed networks.  

The three-tier architecture was a good transition from mainframe to virtualization in the adoption of enterprise cloud computing, but today three-tier cannot offer telco operators the flexibility they need to deliver 5G services at scale. Across the world, telecoms organizations are beginning to divide their operating model into three business demands layers--not three technology tiers. 

The front end layer is customer-focused and all about the experience. The second layer is about agility. These same leading-edge telecoms providers are using microservices platforms that extract vital business logic away from legacy technology platforms; this, in turn, provides the flexibility telco operators are looking for to deliver great customer service and adaptability in the business processes. 

The third business layer is, of course, the back end, which has developed into a module cluster of technologies that allow existing services to be extended to meet new business needs.  

The three-layer operating model needs flexibility at all three steps. As a result, many of those  same telecoms organizations that have moved to this model are moving to a hybrid cloud structure that allows seamless movement among private and public clouds and accommodates on-premises compute where it is applicable.  

Moving to a new target operating model based on a flexible enterprise cloud architecture provides telecom operators with the tools to deliver the digital transformation the sector requires. The roll-out of 5G networks provides customers with great opportunities, but for network operators, this is the deployment of a new network less than 10 years since 4G began connecting customers and businesses.  Digitally transforming the business operations of a telecoms operator helps reduce operating costs and improves services to the customer.  

The existing three-tier architecture will not enable the digital transformation to succeed; it just doesn’t have the flexibility network operators need.  Digital transformation will not only modernize the business processes of telecom operators, but also deliver the additional digital services 5G customers will demand. Analytics will drive digital transformation by breaking down silos, increasing collaboration, and providing timely insights to better serve customers. That means an end to silos and increased collaborative working, as all parts of the organization come together to deliver services and improved information management.  Again, the three-tier just doesn’t provide the flexibility to enable this change in business operations and working culture.  

The demands customers will place on telecom operators and their networks will be high. Businesses that have a simplified and adaptable architecture and estate will be able to respond and always be one step ahead of the customer.  To try and meet the demands of the customer by expanding the existing three-tier infrastructure will create greater complexity. IT teams will be bogged down in managing a multitude of suppliers, applications, interfaces, and be reliant on specialists. As telecoms operators move into 5G, IT must move up the value chain of the organization. IT can't continue to just keep the lights for their telco organizations using legacy architecture. They must embrace a well architected platform that is simple, stable, and scalable, which will allow their business to innovate and fulfill their customer's needs. 

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