Managing the Transition to NFV: Smarter Service Assurance is the Key
Communications Service Providers are moving towards more ‘virtualized’ cloud-based networks, leveraging the benefits of Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and software defined networks (SDN) to gain greater agility, scalability and cost savings. Prior to the advent of NFV, operators built application-specific networks using proprietary hardware. Now, these services can be deployed through software as virtual network functions (VNFs) on a NFV platform.
The Challenges of Managing an Evolving Network
NFV has changed the IT landscape for the better, offering so many benefits that operators are moving forward at a frenzied pace, not wanting to be left behind from a competitive or financial standpoint. In fact, some larger operators have a target of 50-75% transformation to cloud technology for their core networks by 2020. In many cases, issues like architecture, standards and best-practices have not yet been thoroughly vetted or resolved. In effect, many service providers are learning as they go, relying upon their technology partners to successfully deliver a carrier-grade, NFV infrastructure. Many of them are certainly up to the task, but it’s safe to say there will be more than a few hurdles along the way. One of the key challenges, especially during these times of transition, is in ensuring quality service that spans across both types of IT infrastructure.
Even though NFV provides oversight of its own realm of service assurance through a separate layer of automation called the MANO (management and orchestration), and traditional systems have their own legacy EMS in place, problems still occur. NFV Orchestration coordinates, connects, monitors, and manages the needed resources from the platform for the NFV services, but not for the legacy network, which is still up and running as well. The problem is that these two systems aren’t really working together.
A Smarter Approach
With so much complexity and change, the ability to closely monitor the network as a whole becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible, thanks to these hybrid architectures and existing, outdated systems. Operators need to be able to predict potential network problems before they happen – problems that may not be visible within the confines of a virtualized network. They need a way to bring in and analyze outside information and provide a critical big picture view; a solution that can bridge the gap between the old network and the new one. In summary, operators need a way to oversee everything in parallel; to automatically heal and optimize the network and help manage increased complexity. This is where service assurance comes in; but ‘yesterday’s’ service assurance simply isn’t up to the task.
A New Breed of Service Assurance Takes the Stage
Today’s NFV based networks require a new breed of service assurance that goes a step further – providing an end-to-end view of an incredibly complex environment. Operators need a service assurance solution that is more agile, equipped with state-of-the-art machine learning capabilities, such as automatic root cause analysis, predictive failure identification, and ‘alarm noise reduction’, to help reduce the number of alarms that need to be handled. With real time monitoring and fault resolution prioritization, the business impact of faults in the network can be reduced, or even prevented. And service assurance solutions must be able to perform a growing number of these functions automatically, preferably in a ‘closed-loop’ fashion, simply because there is just too much complexity in today’s networks to manage it all manually.
Implementing a smarter, more agile service assurance solution means that service providers will be able to maximize their return on investment by not only providing better quality of service across the board, but they will also be able to support new consumer and enterprise services with greater dynamic, on-demand application and control capabilities. For example, revenue streams can be enhanced by offering a greater assortment of VIP customer services with guaranteed quality-of-experience. The ability to minimize SLA breaches will also make valuable content partners happy and ensure enterprise customers get the level of service they pay for. And lastly, this minimizes subscriber churn by enabling smarter customer care and a better omni-channel experience. When agents are empowered and have access to the comprehensive, real-time data they need, everyone benefits.
Requirements of a ‘Smart’ Service Assurance Solution
For service providers that see the value in taking a modern, advanced approach to service assurance, there are some requirements to look for when searching for the right solution. This includes a special focus on capabilities like integration, automation, analytics & closed loop functionality.
Integration is critical, since tomorrow’s service assurance platforms must be able to support both hybrid & pure NFV/SDN networks and services as an integral part of a unified solution, with all components of service assurance working together. Including Fault, Performance & Service Management; constantly monitoring the network and working together to ensure customer satisfaction by proactively troubleshooting and assuring QoS for voice, data and mobility services.
To take it a step further, modern service assurance systems should also be able to include both service and resource management as part of the same framework, to provide information on service models, service impacts, and root cause analysis. It also needs to access the management and orchestration layer (MANO) as a data source, as the NFV MANO is replacing the traditional EMS as the source for alarms and measurements. In addition, due to the nature of NFV, rapid & dynamic configuration changes must be supported, along with a more complex, multi-vendor environment.
NFV Service Assurance Poll Results – How Service Providers are overcoming the Challenges
TEOCO recently partnered with Light Reading and hosted a webinar called ‘Overcoming the Service Assurance Challenge of Hybrid NFV’, where we asked our audience, ‘What do you see as the greatest challenge for hybrid NFV service assurance?’ The responses are below (Figure 1), and while there didn’t appear to be a standout issue, two of the top challenges selected were the ability to ‘enforce end-to-end hybrid network focused KPIs and KQIs’, and ‘implementing closed-loop capabilities and interfaces within the network orchestrators’. This tells us that service providers are already having some very technologically advanced concerns about how to manage their network in the future.
Figure 1 – Survey Question
Next, we asked our audience which approach service providers plan to take to manage hybrid NFV service assurance needs. What we learned is that many of you aren’t really sure. (See Figure 2 below.) This highlights that some operators are still weighing their options and researching what their best approach is. The other 60% have a high level plan in place. And of those, the majority (over 31%) will be migrating to a new service assurance solution that can better manage the hybrid network challenge. At TEOCO, we believe that is a wise move that will position you for success.
Figure 2 – Survey Question
The future is moving towards fully virtualized networks that leverage technological advances like predictive analytics with closed-loop automation. IT monitoring capabilities and cross-layer correlation will also be integral. The goal is to future-proof your network with a service assurance solution that is smarter and more efficient. One that can deliver bi-directional, closed-loop connectivity for optimal problem detection and resolution, while also providing IT monitoring capabilities for auto-discovery and data model enhancement; resulting in a better, more efficient network and happier customers.
TEOCO’s Helix Service Assurance Software Suite satisfies the entire scope of requirements for next-generation services including VoIP, video, data, and value-added services, as well as legacy telephony services. We take an automated, proactive, and customer-centric approach to service management, customer experience management, performance management and fault management. Our Helix Service Assurance product line supports some of the world’s largest, most complex networks today, which include fixed and mobile technologies such as LTE, 3G, CDMA, GSM and IMS-based networks, switched and optical networks, Ethernet and MPLS transport services as well as NFV. At TEOCO, we are constantly working to advance our products, investing in solving the problems and challenges facing tomorrow’s networks.