How Network Operators Can Close the Agility Gap

| By Nivedha Sridhar
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IT workload migration from the enterprise data center to remote, cloud data centers, increasing IT mobility, and remote management for the Internet of Things (IoT) all drive the need for assured network services for business-critical communications.

Assured network services offer availability and performance guarantees, unlike the best effort services provided by the Internet. Telecom network operators see this assured service demand as an opportunity for revenue growth, both from existing services like Carrier Ethernet and MPLS as well as new, innovative services that incorporate SDN, NFV and M2M technologies. The highly diverse, reliable and scalable connectivity they can provide with their currently deployed infrastructure provides their competitive advantage to sell not only assured network services, but also to bundle value-added data center services.

However, these network operators must cross a service agility gap to compete successfully in this growth market. Today, a typical assured network service takes between one to four months to fulfill from time of order to activation. This performance is manageable for long-lived enterprise service orders, but cloud services require a far more dynamic response. This gap between the agility of service supply and demand is one of the key factors to the network operator success in the virtual services market.

Three Vertical Layers, Innovation at Each

Network operators use extensive and complex systems to deliver services that can be broadly categorized into three vertical layers. Operations Support Systems (OSS) and their close cousin the Billing Support System (BSS) deal with the business aspects of service fulfillment. The OSS layer requests the provisioning, test and ongoing assurance from the middle layer that includes service and network management systems. This layer translates the requests into configuration and status commands for the underlying network equipment which provides data plane connectivity.

  • Operations Support Systems (OSS)
  • Service and Network Management Systems
  • Multi-Vendor Network Equipment Systems

These systems have evolved organically around servicing brick-and-mortar enterprise, SMB and residential customers, with reliability and scalability being of primary focus and agility second. During that evolution, a variety of management silos have arisen and been managed by network operators in swivel chairs, manually executing operations. These silos and the manual operations that manage them are the primary drag on network service agility. To boost the agility of these platforms, providers are innovating at each layer using orchestration and virtualization techniques borrowed from cloud operators.

Competing in Cloud Data Center IT

Defined by cloud and enterprise SDN, orchestration refers to comprehensive, automated control of resources and management. Network operators have defined two types of orchestration that align with their top two levels—OSS orchestration and service orchestration.

An OSS orchestration automates business operations to convert on-demand service requests from end users into API calls to the service management layer. In turn, service orchestration uses end-to-end network resource control to automate provisioning, test and ongoing assurance for virtual services and virtual private networks (VPNs). By eliminating manual operations, OSS and service orchestration accelerate the fulfillment of service orders on available resources.

In parallel, service providers are looking to network function virtualization (NFV) to deploy virtual network functions (VNFs) as cloud-hosted virtual machines (VMs). NFV decouples higher layer services from the physical connectivity infrastructure, increasing resource elasticity and service agility.

For example, access service providers are looking at virtual customer premise equipment (vCPE) applications where the consumer’s set-to-box or enterprise network interface device provides basic connectivity to routers, firewall and storage hosted in the data center. The provider can then bundle these services and remotely activate them for customers with existing access gear.

Helping Drive Service Adoption

OSS orchestration, service orchestration and NFV illustrate the types of solutions that network service providers need to compete in the cloud data center IT world. These techniques will apply not only to existing enterprise and consumer services such as Carrier Ethernet, MPLS, Broadband and LTE, but also to new IoT services that enable reliable, intelligent infrastructure such as smart cities and smart homes. Agile, assured network services will help drive service adoption and business results for the entire industry.