Today, service providers need to easily discover, onboard and manage the best virtual functions for any purpose (capability, price, performance, etc.) from a multi-vendor market that promotes competition and innovation. The main objective is to improve service velocity (the time it takes to deliver a service to a customer), customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.
Ideally, they should also be able to access multiple marketplaces that utilize a shared metamodel with metadata that facilitates hand-offs between stakeholders and metrics that support monitoring and analytics, so they can assure service in a dynamic, multi-vendor, hybrid environment.
All this should work to carrier-grade standards including non-functional concerns like security/ identity, business compliance, IT governance, etc.
This challenge has been taken up in a TM Forum proof-of-concept project called the Enabling Digital Marketplaces Catalyst, the third in a series, which builds on two previous award-winning Catalysts – A Well-enabled VNF Package and Enabling the Digital Services Marketplace with Onboarding Automation.
This Catalyst features a large and diverse ‘star-studded’ ensemble cast of industry-leading organizations that seek to demonstrate the viability and value-proposition of open digital service marketplaces for supporting transparent and efficient virtual function ecosystems, thus enabling platform business models and the Operations Center of the Future. Its champions are Verizon, AT&T, Orange, Vodafone, China Mobile and Telstra; and participants include Oracle, IBM, EnterpriseWeb, Cloud Best Practices, Persistent Systems, Huawei, Metaswitch and EXFO.
A bold moonshoot
The work of this Catalyst is not just ambitious, it is ‘a bold moon-shot’ intended to accelerate industry transformation. It is inspired by many online B2B, B2C and C2C marketplaces (eBay, Kayak, AirBnB, Amazon etc.), that have achieved network effects by connecting buyers and sellers in a positive, self-reinforcing manner – trading virtual functions is fundamentally different than selling and distributing songs or movies, or shoes and hotel reservations.
This requires portability and interoperability between applications on a scale never previously achieved. Otherwise, it would be simply another API hub leading to manual integration, which would not have strategic impact on bottom or top-line revenue for service providers, or drive transformation.
- Breadth/depth scope – integrating lifecycles of suppliers, service providers for automated onboarding, processing and management of virtual functions, which spans many stakeholders, technologies, domains and standards bodies.
- Heterogeneity – every virtual function (VF) is a complex application, architected/optimized for a purpose. Even VFs of the same type will differ in design and properties. Any individual VF will have unique features, behaviors, constraints and dependencies. This is why onboarding is currently a very complex and time-consuming process. hence automation through a metadata-driven approach became vital.
- Dynamicity – when shifting to statically integrated infrastructure-based solutions to dynamic self-optimizing multi-vendor network service compositions change has to be anticipated and accommodated by the target architecture – change on all axes – virtual functions and technologies get updated, upgraded and replaced, and protocols and standards evolve over time. Models need to be highly abstract, technology-agnostic and extensible to accommodate new elements and requirements as they emerge.
- Management – the target architecture must support consistent policy management over a diverse, distributed and dynamic/autonomic management.
The industry is in the midst of a transformation journey, with communications service providers becoming digital service providers in order to achieve automation benefits, improve service velocity and become agile software-based business.
Transformation, by its nature, is always daunting as it requires a reassessment of current practices and a re-organization of operations. This transformation will ultimately impact all aspects of telecom operations. Traditional roles for staff are changing and the lines between suppliers, service providers, partners and customers are blurring. As digital businesses, service providers will consume virtual functions, but may also develop them directly, competing with their traditional suppliers, new cloud-native entrants, and open source communities. Once implemented and trust and confidence is established, the marketplace will open up new business horizons to the service suppliers.
The intent of the Enabling Digital Marketplaces Catalyst is to provide a fully working reference implementation that demonstrates the viability and value-proposition of this transformation in order to de-risk and accelerate the transformation. It will be demonstrated at TM Forum Live! In Nice in May.
Watch this video interview (based on an earlier iteration of the project) for more insight into this Catalyst: