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VMware acquisition of Uhana bolsters 5G offering to carriers

The VMware acquisition of Uhana adds AI-driven network automation to VMware's virtualization platform for carriers. VMware competes against IBM's Red Hat.

VMware's acquisition of Uhana would add another building block to the virtualization platform VMware is developing to beat IBM's Red Hat for the business of carriers overhauling their network operations for 5G.

VMware announced late last week its intent to buy Uhana, the maker of an artificial intelligence engine that provides developers with predictive what-if modeling, along with detailed information on network operations. VMware did not release financial details or say when it would complete the transaction.

VMware plans to add Uhana to its Telco Cloud product, which is the infrastructure platform for running carriers' virtualized network functions. VNFs are tasks that currently run on more limiting proprietary hardware. 

Uhana in Telco Cloud would provide VMware with the opportunity to "embed themselves into the intelligence layer of the modern networks telcos are building now," said Chris Antlitz, an analyst at Technology Business Research Inc.

Advanced features like Uhana's could help VMware compete against Red Hat, which IBM acquired for $34 billion this month. VMware and Red Hat are a "duopoly" in the market for the virtualization technology carriers need to deliver 5G wireless services to businesses and consumers, Antlitz said.

VMware's telco offerings

VMware has provided telcos with virtualization technology for their IT operations for years. The vendor is leveraging that position to do the same for carriers' core network operations, which Antlitz described as "their next leg of growth," along with other initiatives.

In 2018, VMware acquired software-defined WAN vendor VeloCloud. That acquisition carried VMware into virtualized networking for branch and remote offices.

VMware, which claims to have 60 service providers using its networking technology, helps carriers migrate their core networks to a cloud-native infrastructure similar to that of the hyperscale systems of AWS, Google and Microsoft.

The transition hasn't been smooth. Telcos started the transformation in 2014 and TBRI doesn't expect them to finish until the mid-2020s.

Among the challenges faced by carriers are developing network management and orchestration tools, and VNFs that can handle huge workloads.

"There are a ton of problems – no question," Antlitz said. "[But] it's an evolution. You can't wake up tomorrow, and you've arrived."

Carriers are spending billions of dollars on the effort and are making progress, he said. More than two dozen service providers are moving aggressively toward a cloud-native network. They include AT&T, Verizon, Telefonica and Vodafone.

VMware's partnership with Ericsson

VMware's partners in attacking the carrier market include Ericsson, which provides VNFs, billing and charging software, and automation and orchestration applications. This year, VMware signed a global alliance with Ericsson to try to make deployment of the latter company's network applications easier on VMware infrastructure technology. The deal is not exclusive, and Ericsson also works with Red Hat.

VMware announced its plans for Uhana roughly two weeks after saying it would acquire Bitfusion, which provides technology that increases the speed of computing workloads on virtualization platforms, such as VMware's vSphere.

VMware plans to offer Bitfusion in vSphere to companies that want to run data-intensive AI applications in the data center or hybrid cloud environments.

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