There have been some long-term shifts in market dynamics in the telecom industry. Network traffic growth rates have accelerated; new business models emerged; and cloud services matured and spread to new verticals, applications and customer sizes. Networks are more important than ever. Revenue growth rates and profitability in the three segments – telecom, webscale, and carrier-neutral – have been stronger in recent quarters than anticipated.
Looking ahead, networks will increasingly revolve around data centres, which will continue to proliferate both at the core and edge.
Data centre innovation will be rapid, as webscalers push the envelope on network design and function, and telecom operators seek cheaper ways of running their networks. The telecom operator’s need for cost efficiency will increase as overhyped 5G-based opportunities fail to materialise in any big way. Carrier-neutral operators (CNNOs) will benefit from an ongoing wave of new capital which will help them transform to more integrated providers of “digital infrastructure” assets.
Read on to find out about
- The interdependence of network operators
- The growth potential of the telecom, webscale, and CNNO markets
- How webscalers such as Facebook and Alibaba are leveraging scale
- Acquisition and deals in the CNNO market such as the American Tower-CoreSite acquisition and the Digital Realty deal with Ciena.
- The growth of environmental consciousness in the telecom industry
Click here to download The Future of Telecom: Industry Outlook for 2022 and Beyond slides as a PDF.
Oracle is clearly prioritising a rapid expansion across the globe. The company is in a race to catch up with the big 3 (AWS, Google, and Microsoft), and recognises that many of their customers are eager to migrate to the cloud, and they have other options. Their strategy appears to be to rely on third-party co-location providers for most of their data centres, and build a single availability zone per region, at least to start.
Oracle Cloud Rollout Ramps Up
Let us consider the following:
- Oracle’s network spending level puts it in the range of other webscalers. Focusing only on the Network and IT portion of their CapEx, Oracle has now passed Alibaba. Oracle is also ahead of both IBM and Baidu, which are included in the “All others” category in Figure 1.
- The coverage of the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) is impressive. It has 36 regions today (some dedicated for government use), with a plan to reach 44 by year-end 2022. That compares to 27 overall for AWS, 65 for Azure, 29 for GCP; regional competitors Tencent and Huawei have 27 regions each, and Alibaba 25 regions. The downside is that Oracle has only one availability zone in most of its regions, while the Big 3 usually have 2 or 3 per region. Oracle needs to build out its local resiliency rapidly over the next year or two or risk losing business to the big 3, especially to AWS; but the company knows this and is budgeting CapEx aggressively to address the problem.
- Oracle’s initial reliance on leased facilities may be an interim step. The rapid growth of AWS, Azure, and GCP in the late 2010s was a surprise and Oracle started to see serious risks of losing customers to these cloud platforms. Building out their own cloud base on new data centres would have taken years and cost them business. So, Oracle did the smart thing and leaped into the cloud as fast as possible with the resources and time available. The company has scaled their OCI operations at an impressive rate. It expects capital expenditures to double YoY for the fiscal year ending May 2022, as it increases “data centre capacities and geographic locations to meet current and expected customer demand” for OCI.
- Finally, Oracle has invested heavily in designing the servers to be installed in its data centres (even if most of them are leased). Oracle was an early investor in Ampere Computing, which makes Arm-based processors, sidestepping the Intel ecosystem. In May 2021, Oracle rolled out its first Arm-based compute offering, OCI Ampere A1 Compute, based on the Ampere Altra processor. Oracle says this allows OCI customers to run “cloud-native and general-purpose workloads on Arm-based instances with significant price-performance benefits.” Microsoft and Tencent also deploy the Ampere Altra in some locations.
Reaching Global Scale
Once Oracle decided to launch into the cloud, its goal was to both grow revenues and also protect its legacy base from slipping away to the Big 3, which already had a growing global footprint. Oracle chose to quickly build cloud regions in its key markets, with the understanding that it would have to fill out individual regions as time passed. This is not that different from the big 3, in fact, but Oracle started its buildout much later. It also has lesser availability zones per region.
Oracle has not ignored this disparity. It recognises that reliability is key for its clients in trusting OCI. For example, the company emphasises that:
- Each Oracle Cloud region contains at least three fault domains, which are “groupings of hardware that form logical data centers for high availability and resilience to hardware and network failures.” Fault domains allow a customer to distribute instances so “the instances are not on the same physical hardware within a single availability domain.”
- OCI has a network of 70 “FastConnect” partners which offer dedicated connectivity to OCI regions and services (comparable to AWS DirectConnect)
- OCI and Microsoft Azure have a partnership allowing “joint customers” to run workloads across the two clouds, providing low latency, cross-cloud interconnect between OCI and Azure in eight specific regions. Customers can migrate existing applications or develop cloud native applications using a mix of OCI and Azure.
- Oracle allows customers to deploy OCI completely within their own data centers, with Dedicated Region and Exadata Cloud@Customer, deploy cloud services locally with public cloud-based management, or deploy cloud services remotely on the edge with Roving Edge Infrastructure.
- Further, Oracle clearly tries to differentiate around its Arm-based Ampere processors. Reliability is not necessarily the focus, though. The main focus is contrasting Ampere with the x86 ecosystem around overall price-performance, with highlights on power efficiency, scalability and ease of development.
Ultimately the market will decide whether Oracle’s approach makes it truly competitive with the big 3. The company continues to announce some big wins, including with Deutsche Bank, FedEx, NEC, Toyota, and Zoom. The latter is probably the company’s biggest cloud win given Zoom’s rise to prominence amidst the pandemic. Not surprisingly, Oracle’s recent Singapore cloud region launch was hosted by Zoom.
Over the long run, the webscale market is getting more concentrated in the hands of a few players; some companies tracked as webscalers, such as HPE and SAP, will fall by the wayside as they can’t keep up with the infrastructure spending requirements of being a top player. Oracle is aiming to remain in the race, however. CEO Larry Ellison addressed this in an earnings call, arguing the global cloud market is not just the “big 3” (AWS, Azure, and GCP), but is a “big 4” due in part to Oracle’s database strengths. Ellison also argued that the OCI is “much better for security, for performance, for reliability” and cost: “we’re cheaper.” The market will ultimately decide these things, but Oracle is off to a strong start. Its asset light approach to network buildout, and limited depth within regions, clearly have downfalls. But the company has a deep roster of long-term customers across many regions, and it is moving fast to secure their business as they migrate operations to the cloud.
Last week AWS announced their plans to invest USD 5.3 billion to launch new data centres in New Zealand’s Auckland region by 2024. Apart from New Zealand, AWS has recently added new regions in Beijing, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Ningxia, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo; and are set to expand into Indonesia, Israel, UAE and Spain.
In a bid to deliver secure and low latency data centre capabilities, the infrastructure hub will comprise three Availability Zones (AZ) and will be owned and operated by the local AWS entity in New Zealand. The new region will enable local businesses and government entities to run workloads and store data using their local data residency preferences.
It is estimated that the new cloud region will create nearly 1,000 jobs over the next 15 years. They will continue to train and upskill the local developers, students and next-gen leaders through the AWS re/Start, AWS Academy, and AWS Educate programs. To support the launch and build new businesses, the AWS Activate program will provide web-based trainings, cloud computing credits, and business mentorship.
New Zealand is becoming attractive to cloud and data centre providers. Last year, Microsoft had also announced their Azure data centre investments and skill development programs in New Zealand. To support the future of cloud services and to fulfil the progressive data centre demands, Datagrid and Meridian Energy partnered to build the country’s first hyperscale data centre, last year. Similarly, CDC Data Centres have plans to develop two new hyperscale data centres in Auckland.
An Opportunity for New Zealand to Punch Above its Weight as the New Data Economy Hub
“The flurry of data centre related activity in New Zealand is not just a reflection of the local opportunity given that the overall IT Market size of a sub-5 million population will always be modest, even if disproportionate. Trust, governance, transparency are hallmarks of the data centre business. Consider this – New Zealand ranks #1 on Ease of Doing Business rankings globally and #1 on the Corruptions Perception Index – not as a one-off but consistently over the years.
Layered on this is a highly innovative business environment, a cluster of high-quality data science skills and an immense appetite to overcome the tyranny of distance through a strong digital economy. New Zealand has the opportunity to become a Data Economy hub as geographic proximity will become less relevant in the new digital economy paradigm.
New Zealand is strategically located between Latin America and Asia, so could act as a data hub for both regions, leveraging undersea cables. The recently initiated and signed Digital Economy Partnership Agreement between Singapore and New Zealand – with Chile as the 3rd country – is a testimony to New Zealand’s ambitions to be at the core of a digital and data economy. The DEPA is a template other countries are likely to sign up to and should enhance New Zealand’s ability to be a trusted custodian of data.
Given the country’s excellent data governance practices, access to clean energy, conducive climate for data centres, plenty of land and an exceptional innovation mindset, this is an opportunity for global businesses to leverage New Zealand as a Data Economy hub.“
New Zealand’s Data Centre Market is Becoming Attractive
“The hyperscale cloud organisations investing in New Zealand-based data centres is both a great opportunity and a significant challenge for both local data centre providers and the local digital industry. With AWS and Microsoft making significant investments in the Auckland region the new facilities, will improve access to the extensive facilities provided by Azure and AWS with reduced latency.
To date, there have not been significant barriers for most non-government organisations to access any of the hyperscalers, with latency of trans-Tasman already reasonably low. However, large organisations, particularly government departments, concerned about data sovereignty are going to welcome this announcement.
With fibre to the premise available in significant parts of New Zealand, with cost-effective 1GB+ symmetrical services available, and hyperscalers on-shore, the pressure to grow New Zealand’s constrained skilled workforce can only increase. Skills development has to be a top priority for the country to take advantage of this infrastructure. While immigration can address part of the challenge, increasing the number of skilled citizens is really needed. It is good to see the commitment that AWS is making with the availability of training options. Now we need to encourage people to take advantage of these options!“
Top Cloud Providers Continue to Drive Data Centre Investment
“Capital investments in data centres have soared in recent quarters. For the webscale sector, spending on data centres and related network technology account for over 40% of total CapEx. The webscale sector’s big cloud providers have accounted for much of the recent CapEx surge. AWS, Google, and Microsoft have been building larger facilities, expanding existing campuses and clusters, and broadening their cloud region footprint into smaller markets. These three account for just under 60% of global webscale tech CapEx over the last four quarters. The facilities these webscale players are building can be immense.
The largest webscalers – Google, AWS, Facebook and Microsoft – clearly prefer to design and operate their own facilities. Each of them spends heavily on both external procurement and internal design for the technology that goes into their data centres. Custom silicon and the highest speed, most advanced optical interconnect solutions are key. As utility costs are a huge element of running a data centre, webscalers also seek out the lowest cost (and, increasingly, greenest) power solutions, often investing in new power sources directly. Webscalers aim to deploy facilities which are on the bleeding edge of technology.
An important part of the growth in cloud adoption is the construction of infrastructure closer to the end-user. AWS’s investment in New Zealand will benefit their positioning and should help deliver more responsive and resilient services to New Zealand’s enterprise market.“
The emergence of COVID-19 last year caused a rapid shift towards work and study from home, and a pickup in eCommerce and social media usage. Tech companies running large data centre-based “webscale” networks have eagerly exploited these changes. Already flush with cash, the webscalers invested aggressively in expanding their networks, in an effort to blanket the globe with rapid, responsive connectivity. Capital investments have soared. For the webscale sector, spending on data centres and related network technology accounts for over 40% of the total CapEx.
Here are the 3 key emerging trends in the data centre market:
#1 Top cloud providers drive webscale investment but are not alone
The webscale sector’s big cloud providers have accounted for much of the recent CapEx surge. AWS, Google, and Microsoft have been building larger facilities, expanding existing campuses and clusters, and broadening their cloud region footprint into smaller markets. These three account for just under 60% of global webscale tech CapEx over the last four quarters. Alibaba and Tencent have been reinforcing their footprints in China and expanding overseas, usually with partners. Numerous smaller cloud providers – notably Oracle and IBM – are also expanding their cloud services offerings and coverage.
Facebook and Apple, while they don’t provide cloud services, also continue to invest aggressively in networks to support large volumes of customer traffic. If we look at Facebook, the reason becomes clear: as of early 2021, they needed to support 65 billion WhatsApp messages per day, over 2 billion minutes of voice and video calls per day, and on a monthly basis their Messenger platform carries 81 billion messages.
The facilities these webscale players are building can be immense. For instance, Microsoft was scheduled to start construction this month on two new data centres in Des Moines Iowa, each of which costs over USD 1 billion and measures over 167 thousand square metres. And Microsoft is not alone in building these large facilities.
#2 Building it all alone is not an option for even the biggest players
The largest webscalers – Google, AWS, Facebook and Microsoft – clearly prefer to design and operate their own facilities. Each of them spends heavily on both external procurement and internal design for the technology that goes into their data centres. Custom silicon and the highest speed, most advanced optical interconnect solutions are key. As utility costs are a huge element of running a data centre, webscalers also seek out the lowest cost (and, increasingly, greenest) power solutions, often investing in new power sources directly. Webscalers aim to deploy facilities that are on the bleeding edge of technology. Nonetheless, in order to reach the far corners of the earth, they have to also rely on other providers’ network infrastructure. Most importantly, this means renting out space in data centres owned by carrier-neutral network operators (CNNOs) in which to install their gear.
The Big 4 webscalers do this as little as possible. For many smaller webscalers though, piggybacking on other networks is the norm. Of course, they want some of their own data centres – usually the largest ones closest to their main concentrations of customers and traffic generators. But leasing space – and functionalities like cloud on-ramps – in third-party facilities helps enormously with time to market.
Oracle is a case in point. They have expanded their cloud services business dramatically in the last few years and attracted some marquee names to their client list, including Zoom, FedEx and Cisco. To ramp up, Oracle reported a rise in CapEx, growing to USD 2.1 billion in the 12 months ended June 2021, which represents a 31% increase from the previous year. However, when compared to Microsoft’s spending this appears modest. Microsoft reported having spent USD 20.6 billion in the 12 months ended June 2021 – a 33% increase over the previous year – to help drive the growth of their Azure cloud service.
One reason behind Oracle’s more modest spending is how heavily the company has relied on colocation partners for their cloud buildouts. Oracle partners with Equinix, Digital Realty, and other providers of neutral data centre space to speed their cloud time to market. Oracle rents space in 29 Digital Realty locations, for instance, and while Equinix doesn’t quantify its partnership with Oracle, Oracle’s cloud regions across the globe access the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) via the Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric. Oracle also works with telecom providers; their Dubai cloud region, launched in October 2020, is hosted out of an Etisalat owned data centre.
#3 Carrier-neutral data centre investment is surging in concert with webscale/cloud growth
As the webscale sector has raced to expand over the last 2 years, companies that specialise in carrier-neutral data centres have benefited. Industry sources estimate that as much as 50% or more of the cloud sector’s total data centre footprint is actually in these third-party data centres. That is unlikely to change, especially as some CNNOs are explicitly aiming to build out their networks in areas where webscalers have less incentive to devote resources. It’s not just about the webscalers’ need for space; the need for highly responsive, low latency networks is also key, and interconnection closer to the end-user is a driver.
Looking at the biggest publicly traded carrier-neutral providers in the data centre sector shows that their capacity has expanded significantly in the last few years (Figure 1)
By my estimation, for the first 6 months of 2021, CapEx reported publicly for these CNNOs increased 18% against 1H20, to an estimated USD 4.1 Billion. Beyond the big public names, private equity investment is blossoming in the data centre market, in part aimed at capturing some of the demand growth generated by webscalers. Examples include Blackstone’s acquisition of QTS Realty Trust, Goldman Sachs setting up a data centre-focused venture called Global Compute Infrastructure; and Macquarie Capital’s strategic partnership with Prime Data Centers.
Some of this new investment target core facilities in the usual high-traffic clusters, but some also target smaller country markets (e.g. STT’s new Bangkok-based data centre), and the network edge (e.g. EdgeConneX, a portfolio company of private equity fund EQT Infrastructure).
EdgeConneX is a good example of the flexibility required by the market. They build smaller size facilities and deploy infrastructure closer to the edge of the network, including a PoP in Boston’s Prudential Tower. The company offers data centre solutions “ranging from 40kW to 40MW or more.” They have built over 40 data centres in recent years, including both edge data centres and a number of regional and hyperscale facilities across North America, Europe, and South America. Notably, EdgeConneX recently created a joint venture with India’s property group Adani – AdaniConneX – which looks to leverage India’s status of being the current hotspot for carrier-neutral data centre investment.
As enterprises across many vertical markets continue to adopt cloud services, and their requirements grow more stringent, the investment climate for new data centre capacity is likely to remain strong. Webscale providers will provide much of this capacity, but carrier-neutral specialists have an important role to play.