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X by Orange Builds Agile Telco Billing System Using Amazon S3, Amazon EMR, and Amazon MSK

2020

Bringing innovation to telecommunications is a challenge, as large-scale legacy systems often aren’t set up for rapid change. X by Orange, a business-to-business subsidiary of the Orange Group in Spain, set out to shift that dynamic and bring some of the agility of startup culture to the telecommunications world.

Finding that off-the-shelf billing apps weren’t meeting its needs, X by Orange sought to build an application it could quickly improve and adapt as its business needs change. Using solutions from Amazon Web Services (AWS), including Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon EMR, and Amazon Managed Streaming for Apache Kafka (Amazon MSK), X by Orange was able to build a nimble billing system that was more flexible and less expensive than an off-the-shelf solution. The system produced significant savings of both time and money, unlocking the potential for further innovation on the AWS Cloud.

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Having everything all together in an Amazon S3 data lake where data can be extracted and analyzed helps a lot to give more meaningful information to our customers and build new services."

Fernando Alvarez
Lead Cloud Architect, X by Orange

Looking Beyond Standard Services

X by Orange is a lean operation and fully owned subsidiary of the Orange Group in Spain, one of the largest telecommunications groups in the world. Its managed cloud services—including those concerning security, privacy, and communications—cater to small and medium-size businesses. In branching off from the larger group, X by Orange sought to deliver services that go beyond the standard consumer offerings of telecommunications companies, focusing on innovation in business-to-business digital services that benefit from the economies of scale of the cloud. However, X by Orange believed that the traditional tools widely available to telecommunications companies weren’t optimized for rapid innovation and would run up costs while hampering the speed at which new services could be delivered to customers.

“Normally, everything from provisioning new fiber connections to generating the final PDF bill is done by the same monolithic business support system—different components but the same system from the same vendor,” explains Fernando Alvarez, lead cloud architect for X by Orange. “That’s not very aligned with the way software is made now, where it’s more about developing or integrating standard components and making them work together.” An inflexible off-the-shelf billing system would require X by Orange to negotiate new deals and develop new integration components in its billing system every time it wanted to add a new product or feature. Billing flexibility was crucial considering X by Orange’s rapid growth: “We started with 0 customers and gained 300 customers in the first 2 years and then maybe 2,000 customers in the next year,” says Alvarez. “We are continuously developing and reshaping our portfolio with a reduced time to market. We wanted a system that would grow with us the way AWS services would.”

Creating a Flexible Solution

X by Orange’s new billing application collects data from customers’ services usage for billing purposes. The application stores a wealth of information in a data lake in Amazon S3, an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance. With this information, the application can not only produce a bill but also facilitate usage analytics, an operations dashboard, and more—all in real time. Instead of storing information over multiple systems deployed for each use case, Alvarez’s team developed a standardized system with the Amazon S3 data lake, increasing efficiency while reducing costs of development and operation.

X by Orange’s architecture includes Amazon EMR, the industry-leading cloud big data platform for processing vast amounts of data using open-source frameworks. The company primarily uses Amazon EMR as an extract, transform, load tool, but it also uses the AWS service for data analytics. X by Orange also put in place an event bus using Amazon MSK, a fully managed service that makes it easy to build and run applications that use Apache Kafka to process streaming data. This enabled the company to capture, store, and manage customer call data in real time. “Having everything all together in an Amazon S3 data lake where data can be extracted and analyzed helps a lot to give more meaningful information to our customers and build new services,” says Alvarez. For example, the information presented to customers could help them save money by letting them see whether their usage merits a different plan. On the developer side, the information offers insight on what new services X by Orange should build.

The core benefit of a cloud-native microservices architecture is the ability to add and swap out components in response to changing needs. Once X by Orange built a strong architectural framework, it was easy to deploy new features or change ones that were not meeting customer expectations. “Every time we want to develop a new service,” says Alvarez, “we can think about the big picture and determine where the different components are deployed instead of having to develop a completely new project isolated like a silo.” This adaptable system helped X by Orange reduce the time to develop new features by 50 percent, and the company expects to see cost reductions of more than 70 percent. Beyond cost and time savings, the new system enables greater innovation and a quick realization of big ideas.

Letting Everyone Innovate

X by Orange is far from finished; it’s still building new systems piece by piece and plans to continue integrating new elements through the end of 2020 and beyond. Alvarez hopes to use AWS services to innovate in more areas related to the telecommunications world, including expanding services that make the benefits of software-defined networking available to small customers. He also sees the company’s successes as examples that others can follow. “I think that we are showing that this way of building applications also works for others in the telco industry,” says Alvarez. “We’re making it happen with real customers. So once they have proof that this way of building services is possible, they will be believers.”

Using AWS services, X by Orange was able to increase its speed of innovation, reducing the difficulty of seeing a novel idea through to its realization. Alvarez sums up the vision that guides X by Orange as it grows: “We think that innovation must be done in the everyday world, by everybody. So every time engineers have a new idea, they can evolve the system on their own because they are using the standard technologies, and they don’t have to change the overall system. They only have to change one little piece.”

To learn more, visit aws.amazon.com/s3/.

X by Orange Reference Architecture

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About X by Orange

X by Orange is a technology company and subsidiary of the Orange Group in Spain that is dedicated to promoting the growth of companies using digital transformation and advanced communication services based on a cloud architecture.

Benefits of AWS

  • Reduced time to market for new features by 50%
  • Expects a 70% reduction in total costs
  • Enabled a quick innovation environment

AWS Services Used

Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) is an object storage service that offers industry-leading scalability, data availability, security, and performance.

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Amazon EMR

Amazon EMR is the industry-leading cloud big data platform for processing vast amounts of data using open source tools such as Apache Spark, Apache Hive, Apache HBase, Apache Flink, Apache Hudi, and Presto.

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Amazon MSK

Amazon MSK is a fully managed service that makes it easy for you to build and run applications that use Apache Kafka to process streaming data.

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