The journey towards intent-based assurance and the automation payback
The opinions expressed within this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of TM Forum.
How many times per week does your network operations team manually do something? Hundreds? Thousands? Even more?
Chances are that whatever your estimate is, it’s also a lot more than a decade ago — and a lot less than what it will be a few years from now. Between deploying new technologies such as 5G alongside legacy infrastructure, network disaggregation and virtualization, the cloud, and customer and device data growth, communications service provider (CSP) networks keep getting bigger and more complex.
All of that means more tools (or spreadsheets!) for your team to pore over when troubleshooting network performance and service quality issues, which directly affects your bottom line. For example, manually investigating and fixing problems takes time, so there’s always a labor cost. Enterprise customers may also demand financial compensation, especially if the problem violates their service level agreement (SLA). If the problem is recurring or drags on too long, some of those customers may churn.
It’s also impossible to absorb the cost to staff up the small army necessary to continue the tradition of manually optimizing, managing, and troubleshooting your network. And that’s assuming you could even find enough people with the chronically short supply of engineers and other highly skilled network staff.
What’s the ‘intent’ of intent-based assurance?
Intent-based assurance is designed to help CSPs overcome these technological and business challenges. The starting point is intent-based networking, where all of the complexities of implementing services are abstracted behind intent-based APIs. Engineering and operations teams no longer have to understand how the network protocols work just to deploy a service. The basic idea behind intent-based networking is, “Just tell us what you want to do with the network, and the system will configure it and figure that out.”
Plus, the faster you deploy new services, the faster new revenue starts rolling in.
Intent-based assurance builds on that foundation: You add assurance as part of the process of deploying services. Now you get direct visibility into service quality, user experience, SLA compliance and more — all without having to understand the behind-the-scenes, nitty-gritty details of how assurance testing and provisioning works, and without having to deploy and manage a completely separate assurance solution in your network.
Another major benefit is zero-touch automation. Given an input model that describes a service, intent-based assurance can figure out how to instrument the network to provide assurance for the service and automate the placement, deployment, and configuration of probes. The assurance system also understands how the service should behave, creates the KPIs and KQIs relevant to maintaining QoS, monitors these metrics, and can understand when the service is having an issue (or may potentially have an issue in the future) and informs the network controller. This adds intelligence to the assurance layer and goes beyond static SLAs.
And future services will require high levels of automation in both IT and network operations. Two-thirds of CSP respondents from a recent TM Forum survey said that such automation would be fundamentally important to their ability to generate new revenue and new lines of business from their network.
Do more with less – assure new services more easily at less cost
Making intent-based assurance a fundamental part of your network also enables zero-touch operations from day one. That’s cheaper and faster than relying on specialist network staff to deploy assurance solutions and manually find and fix problems. This strategy helps ensure that all of the network’s services provide a consistently great user experience, which is critical for attracting and retaining customers — especially enterprises that want to take advantage of the high speeds, low latencies, and other capabilities of a next-generation technology as soon as it’s commercially available.
If rival CSPs are launching the same new technology — such as 5G — then zero-touch assurance automation can enable powerful market differentiators such as service quality that’s noticeably superior to what competitors are delivering. This can be particularly helpful for signing up enterprises that require SLAs and providing portals with performance visibility directly to those enterprise customers
End-to-end visibility using active assurance to build KPIs and KQIs from analyzing packets, and then correlating other sources of performance data, enables you to drill down to the root cause of issues. This provides the insights necessary to understand what users are really experiencing — because even when the network management tools are all showing green, users might be seeing red.
Intent-based assurance builds the capability into your network to ferret out those bad experiences so they can be proactively addressed, reducing the operational cost of your network and improving customer satisfaction and reducing churn.