Services, Services, Services

Apr 08, 2013

In previous blog entries I have talked about applying cloud and NFV (Network Function Virtualization) principles to the edge of the network.  In this entry I will talk about why these principles are important and how they can benefit the service provider.  These benefits fall into three categories related to services:

  • Service creation – The process of defining, implementing, and marketing new services
  • Service activation – The enabling of a service instance when ordered by a customer
  • Service assurance – The measurement and reporting of compliance with the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Service Creation
Developing new service offerings today is a lengthy and expensive process for service providers. Recently an analyst told me that the implementation of a new service at a top-tier service provider takes an average of 18 months and $21 million dollars.  Much of the required cost and time is a result of difficult programming interfaces associated with the network elements, the wide variety of devices that need to be accessed, and the typical need to upgrade the network elements to support the new service.  We need to improve this situation by replacing complexity with a simple programming model, schema and tools that drastically reduce the development time and cost for new features.  In addition to big cost savings per se, reducing the cost and time to develop new features will let a service provider be more responsive to their customers and market trends, and innovate in Internet time rather than in telco time.  Acceleration will also allow them to be more speculative and aggressive in service offerings, because the cost of a mistake will be so much lower.

Service Activation
Businesses and consumers are very demanding with respect to the time that it takes to fulfill an order.  In a world of overnight delivery and on-demand video, waiting weeks for a new communications service is no longer acceptable.  The problem for service providers is that activating an order often involves many manual steps spread over days and weeks.  This is one of the reasons that operational expenses for a service provider exceed capital expenses by a factor of six to one.

The key to improving speed and accuracy of service activation is increasing the use of automation.  Cloud-based approaches enable such automation by tying together the relevant systems and providing an efficient development environment to deliver such benefits as:

  • Zero-touch commissioning – This is the ability of a technician to install a device straight from the box, without any need for local configuration
  • Flow-through provisioning – When an order goes in for a service, flow-through provisioning automatically propagates the needed changes down to the relevant network elements
  • Instantiation of virtual appliances – One of the great attractions of a cloud-based/NFV approach is the ability to turn up services such as routing, firewall, security and VPN without the need to install new physical equipment
  • Network optimization – As services are turned up and down available capacity in the network changes.  Automating network optimization based on these changes maximizes efficient use of network resources.

Service Assurance
Now the groovy new service has been defined, and the customer has ordered and received it.  How can the service provider ensure that the promised SLA is being met?  Ethernet Service OAM (SOAM) is the preferred way to measure key parameters such as packet loss, latency and latency variation.  However, SOAM is fiendishly difficult to configure and monitor.  In addition, the service provider must make provision for handling hard faults such as power, equipment or facility failures, as well as degradations signaled by Threshold Crossing Alarms (TCAs).  Finally, there must be an efficient way to diagnose, sectionalize, and repair faults when they occur.  All of this is possible today using a variety of disparate and isolated tools.  What is needed is an efficient way to tie them together to achieve benefits such as automated configuration, proactive performance reporting, and automatic fault isolation.

Moving to a cloud-based approach using the tools and methods of SDN (Software-defined Networking) and virtualization offers a solution to the problem.

  • The use of virtualization and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) provides an efficient way to represent and control the entities and data
  • In particular, knowledge of service and network topology enables automation of the complex configuration of SOAM, and efficient harvesting and analysis of the resulting data
  • Comparison of data to an SLA and to thresholds for TCAs is much easier to do in a database-centric application than in embedded devices
  • Use of an SDN approach with centralized control and network knowledge makes efficient fault identification and isolation possible.

Sounds great.  How do we get there?
In the next entry I will talk more about how to deliver these capabilities, and in particular the importance of an open implementation based on standards.

Other Blogs in this Series

About the Author
Prayson Pate is Chief Technologist and co-founder at Overture. Prayson is a technology evangelist with a proven track record leading teams and delivering products. Since 1983 he has been building Carrier Ethernet and telecom products for service providers and network operators around the world – both as an individual developer and as a leader of development teams. Prayson spends much of his time driving adoption of Overture’s new Ensemble Open Service Architecture, which includes aspects of automation, virtualization, SDN and NFV. He has a BSEE from Duke, an MSECE from NC State and is the holder of nine US patents.

Follow Prayson on twitter: @praysonpate

Services, Services, Services was last modified: July 1st, 2015 by Prayson Pate

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