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Speakers’ Corner: giffgaff’s cloud move is bold but comes with risks

Mobile News
January 20, 2021

giffgaff’s cloud strategy is exciting, but comes with just as many risks, says Rob Hartley, Vice President & Managing Director for EMEA and LATAM at Radware.

giffgaff’s turbocharged cloud strategy is exciting, but beware anyone who intends to follow the lead. Cloud comes with risks as well as opportunities.

giffgaff is starting the New Year as the only MVNO in Europe to have moved its on-premise infrastructure to AWS.

The stats on the time it frees up and the amount of innovation it can underpin are staggering, so it’s easy to see why Steve MacDonald, chief operating and technology officer at giffgaff, said it will ‘turbocharge development cycles’.

giffgaff isn’t alone in moving to the cloud to create these advantages of scale, agility and speed. Several sectors have and are doing the same.

During 2020, spurred on by the pandemic, numerous companies brought forward cloud plans not by months but by years such was the urgency to reap the rewards of a cloud strategy, stay competitive and simply survive.

Utilise 5G

For MNOs and MVNOs alike the challenge will be the same this year – harness the power of network and in particular 5G, develop exciting applications that consumers and business leaders need and want, right through to better managing the margin on handsets.

But no matter the specific strategy any one operator is following, one thing always stays the same and that’s great customer service comparative to price.

And frankly prices have dropped so much in recent years that competing on price isn’t really a game changer to the extent that it used to be. Now it absolutely rests on the services on offer, stable, consistent and great network coverage and easy and accessible help.

Cloud has a big role to play in this. But for all the progress the cloud facilitates, there are warnings from senior execs that any operator adopting cloud needs to heed, namely the impact on resilience and security.

Though moving to the cloud was recognised as a way to deliver contactless services fast, it also entertained more risk. Some 40 per cent of execs said they experienced more attacks in the 2020 spring lockdown as a result of moving to the cloud quickly.

The reasons were two fold. Firstly, the more businesses moved critical apps to the cloud, the bigger the attack surface become. It amounted to a bumper pay day for hackers. The hunting ground literally enlarged exponentially overnight and it was rich pickings. Data, personal information, banking info, IP – you name it if it had a value then hackers sought it out.

And secondly, as this reality took hold so execs realised that they became over-reliant on their cloud providers to deliver security but also the uptime they needed to deliver great service.

This critical dependency is a risk. Indeed, over the 2020 there were some notable outages that have left UK comms firm Vonage, US streaming company Roku, content curator app Pocket, to name just a few, struggling to maintain a service.

Pioneers learn the hard way

So, what’s the answer?

Well, the pioneers have learnt the hard way that there are advantages and disadvantages to a cloud strategy, and it’s why I expect this year we will see boardrooms debate if having all their cloud eggs in one basket is the way to go.

Should they instead have multi-cloud designs and a different approach to security? Is the promise of built in security enough or is that a foundation upon which to put more robust detection and mitigation models? I know where I’d put my money.

Applications are so critical to the running of a business and the customer experience. Keeping them safe from attack is imperative, but so too is ensuring the applications aren’t launched without testing in the first place. I hope to see DevSecOps feature higher on the supply chain of getting products to market.

Only then do I think we’ll see a review of cost structures. Indeed, metered and pay-as-you pricing has delivered some pricing shocks for organisations that were forced to move to a cloud-only deployment during the pandemic. So, we’re likely to see movement towards more elastic and flexible ‘Bring Your Own Licence’ models, across multi-cloud environments this year.

These are perhaps the two biggest strategic changes that should materialise in 2021. Combined they will help organisations deliver agile, secure and scalable computing. For operators there are of course two sides to this.

The first is to make sure they themselves have cloud strategies that are stable, the other is to find ways to deliver this to their customers. Operators have the infrastructure after all and could steal a march in this growing sector. That could lead to some interesting technology partnerships this year.

Whatever happens, one thing remains certain in my mind. giffgaff’s move may be the first, but it won’t be the last. Plenty more will follow. But what remains to be seen is how the strategy performs and what numbers it delivers.

Rob Hartley is vice president & managing director for EMEA & LATAM at Radware, a provider of Cybersecurity, Application Performance & Cloud Solutions

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