Today the vast majority of traditional network operators acknowledge that becoming a digital service provider tops the list of strategic priorities. According to Netcracker’s recent survey of over 100 customers, more than three-fourths of service providers already have working digital strategies in place. Leveraging software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technologies is a fundamental part of service providers’ digital strategies.
As network operator costs grow, revenues in traditional markets flatline and web-scale competition intensifies, network operators are left with no choice but to decrease their time-to-market and recalibrate their capex and opex. All these aspirations point to the need for agility. Service providers have no choice but to become faster at rolling out change in the form of new business models, products and technologies. They need to become faster at responding to changes in their external environment and better at controlling the cost of change. In other words, they must become agile, and flexible, more like their web-based competitors. Traditional service providers now have a mode of operation that constrains how fast they can react to change. Forward-looking service providers who are adopting an Agile approach must embrace end-to-end orchestration if they aspire to streamline their operations and provide zero-touch service management to their customers.
Service Orchestration is the key. It allows for the lifecycle management of a service across all hybrid network domains: legacy networks, SDN networks, cloud and NFVi environments. Service Orchestration decomposes customer-facing service requests from customer management systems into network service requests that are directed to underlying network orchestration. Meanwhile, requests for physical connectivity, WAN connectivity and XaaS services are sent to legacy OSS, Transport/WAN SDN controller(s) and cloud manager(s). Service Orchestration provides multivendor service-specific configuration of VNFs and PNFs via different industry-adopted protocols, such as NETCONF, SNMP as well as CLI-based and web services. Virtualization demands automation and, in order to achieve that end-to-end orchestration, it is a must-have. To be truly responsive to change, operators must adopt an approach to virtualization and automation that is founded in Agile culture and practices, supported by Agile methodologies and tools. This approach applies to:
- The design and development phase for networks and customer-facing services.
- The runtime phase, after deployment or fulfillment.
One of the largest impacts of an Agile approach is that operational elements are designed and developed alongside customer-facing services. Agile assumes that service operations will be automated. Creating the automation artifacts (such as scripts, service models, resource descriptors and policies) needed to manage a specific type of customer-facing service takes place in the design and development phase. The artifacts are then ready to be used by management tools that execute them in the runtime, operational phase. Collaboration between development and operations is a hallmark of DevOps, the Agile set of software practices that has been adopted globally by internet players and enterprises, which want to be leaders in their field.
NEC/Netcracker’s Agile Virtualization Platform and Practice (AVP) makes it possible for service providers to manage and integrate existing and virtualized network operations. It helps them create Agile development environments to support both IT and network requirements. Here are some of the characteristics enabled by AVP that service providers need to consider when adopting virtualized technologies or undergoing a digital transformation:
- The end-to-end orchestrator is needed to manage and orchestrate VNFs and PNFs. This end-to-end orchestration layer must work closely with a centralized catalog.
- Agile and policy-driven service modeling should be possible in hours or days, not weeks or months. An orchestration solution should have the ability to create new services based on customer needs via an intuitive and flexible service design environment, not a rigid programming process that leaves the customer waiting.
- Service fulfillment and assurance should be policy-enabled and include reusable policy definitions centered around availability, QoS, security, access, etc.
- Integrity between service and device configuration is critical to avoid inconsistency, reduce order fallout and ensure accurate device support.
- Real-time service chaining of virtualized and non-virtualized network functions is a critical component of next-generation service management platforms.
- Automatic discovery and reconciliation is critical for real-time discovery of network topology and correlation of that with customer, services, physical and virtual resources.
- Big data predictive analytics is critical to identify trends, patterns and subscriber behaviors.
- Real-time responsiveness to changing requirements and events, for example, new customer orders and change requests on demand.
- Automation is needed at both the local, domain-specific level and end-to-end across services, network layers, customer and technology domains.
- Support for continuous deployment. Continuous deployment is the runtime counterpart to the agile, continuous integration of new service features and network technologies in the design and development phase. It is a critical enabler of change. The runtime phase needs a methodology and mechanism for absorbing these changes and their accompanying automation artifacts without interrupting existing operations.
Netcracker provides an evolutionary approach to operationalizing SDN/NFV. NEC/Netcracker’s AVP simplifies service providers’ transition to hybrid networks and, ultimately, their transformation into digital service providers. It comprises four primary components, as shown in the Figure below:
- The Virtualization Development and Operations Center (VDOC) is a first-of-its-kind Agile collaboration environment designed to automate end-to-end service lifecycle management. It enables collaboration across departments and with third-party partners, including systems integrators. VDOC simplifies and accelerates service integration, testing and deployment by leveraging an always expanding library of reusable service components.
- Hybrid Operations Management (HOM) is focused on making virtual and traditional networks simultaneously operate at scale a reality. HOM solves the gaps missing in today’s solutions for automating hybrid network management, including assurance, continual optimization and security. HOM integrates with VDOC to create a dynamic and continuous feedback loop between product and development environments.
- Business Enablement Applications (BEA) are designed to accelerate the commercialization of new digital services. BEA fills the gaps with existing BSS by providing applications that support on-demand services, cost-effective partner management and the monetization of emerging business models. Delivered through an architecture built on micro services, it enables a plug-n-play approach to expanding existing BSS functionality vs. today’s options of carrying out expensive upgrades or full-scale transformations.
- The Primary Systems Integration Practice (PSIP) helps service providers overcome the commercial, operational and organizational challenges preventing them from leveraging virtualization technologies in multivendor, best-of-breed ecosystems. NEC/Netcracker’s services cover all stages of virtualization initiatives – from the initial definition of the program and its business case to the full transfer of operations. Leveraging years of experience with Agile deployments and software-driven services, PSIP helps service providers transform their static, proprietary hardware-dependent environments into dynamic, software-driven ecosystems.
This industry is naturally excited by all the talk about next-generation services, but service providers know that their immediate opportunity for innovation revolves around lowering the cost of delivering services today. Next-gen services will come down the road, but right now – this very minute – service providers need faster order-to-cash cycles. With the right orchestration, they can optimize operations and build a foundation on which to deliver and manage revenue-generating services on both traditional and virtualized network infrastructure.