by Rich Pappalardo, VP Product Marketing
Matching practical Service Assurance solutions that are cost effective and forward-looking with rapid and often unpredictable network changes can be bewildering for any network operator.
Let us catch you up on what features and capabilities others in your industry are deploying.
Telecommunication networks and associated service offerings are evolving at an accelerating pace worldwide. This is happening not only with mobile, fixed, and multi-service telecom operators, but also within large enterprise networks operated by utilities, transportation companies, and government entities. Service Assurance systems, as a subset of Operational Support Systems (OSS), must meet the challenge to stay ahead of these fast-paced network changes.
Network operators are faced with the reality of managing and maintaining networks that are in constant transition while trying to attain the highest levels of service quality for their users. These transitional networks are in reality, hybrid networks consisting of “legacy”, “next-gen”, and elements of the “digital transformation” phase such as 5G, SDN/NFV, IoT, etc. This is not an easy task to say the least.
So, what are the Service Assurance solutions that progressive operators are deploying? Let’s take a look.
Fault and Event Management
Technology-neutral & Vendor-neutral Integration – Provides the ability to deploy an end-to-end network management system to monitor and manage networks no matter what infrastructure is used, and from any vendor. No limitations with existing or new infrastructure.
Auto-discovery of Network Elements, Links, and Topology – Significant advancements enable the latest fault and event management systems to discover network elements, their configuration, and links between them. GIS-based location data is either discovered from the elements if this information has been loaded by the operator, or imported from databases or GIS systems. Overall geo-topology of the managed network is then automatically captured, displayed, and synchronized. This added layer of automation is one of the most important features demanded today as it simplifies system administration, represents the actual configuration of the network to operations and engineering staff, and enables topology-based correlation.
Topology-based Correlation – Once network topology is understood from auto-discovery or integrating to inventory management or even spreadsheet databases, sophisticated correlation applications can quickly analyze extremely high volumes of events and deliver immediate and essential information to network operations staff. The upkeep and inaccuracies of rules-based correlation tools of the past are no longer acceptable.
Automated Root Cause Analysis, Service & Customer Impact Analysis – Topology-based correlation yields many additional benefits. Root cause alarms are automatically pinpointed while less important and sympathetic events are filtered so network operations staff instantly know what they need to focus on.
Functionality can also be extended to indicate what services are impacted and what customers are using those services. This automation advances effective service level and SLA analysis.
Network operators have placed much emphasis on fault and event management, but it alone is not good enough anymore. Although performance management tools have been available for many years, as networks continue to transition to all IP-based systems the latest performance management proficiencies become absolutely critical for any network operator. Today’s performance management systems are constantly searching for any degradations in network performance, i.e. packet loss, jitter, latency, bandwidth, errored seconds, availability, and many more. These measurements provide early warnings of network conditions that need attention before services are impacted, and help move service providers to pro-active network management.
Performance management systems also hold a tremendous amount of historical data to baseline normal behavior so deviations can be addressed, and this historical data also can be used to perform engineering projections for network and capacity planning. Enriching performance management further, flow data statistics provide network bandwidth monitoring that analyzes which users, applications, IP addresses, and protocols are consuming the most bandwidth. This helps network engineers not only improve quality of service, but also spot emerging security issues.
Trouble Management & Workflow Automation
Trouble Ticketing tools have been around for a long time, but the underlying processes and workflow are often either neglected or not formalized. Service assurance processes, once designed, can be converted to automated routines in workflow applications available today. This ensures automated and repeatable processes that follow pre-engineered and approved company objectives.
Business Intelligence (BI) Dashboards
Looking at the tremendous amount of information today’s service assurance systems provide, network operators need ways to filter this data and provide the most essential “intelligence” for supervisors, managers, and executives. They need to know “How’s my business running?” Industry-standard and operator-specific key performance indicators (KPIs) can be displayed in dynamic graphical dashboards that present real time KPI status. Today’s web-based dashboards can be displayed in the workplace or on smartphones and tablets for access anytime, anywhere.
Although the network or service operations center (NOC or SOC) is the center of the universe for service assurance activity, today’s network operations and field personnel want anytime, anywhere ability to not only monitor, but also interact with the networks they manage. Therefore, smartphone apps should be available to see much of what NOC operators can see, and permit mobile staff to take actions such as acknowledging alarms, sending commands, placing devices in maintenance mode, or opening and assigning trouble tickets.
Integration: Fault, Performance, Correlation, Trouble Ticketing & Inventory
Service assurance benefits can be significantly expanded by carefully selecting integration points between individual systems. The project, and associated system architecture should be planned to leverage the power of an integrated ecosystem, and deployed in a phases. The objective it to attain maximum flow-through automation.
Customer Centric Operations & Service Excellence
Network operators are deploying a variety of tools to help them focus on their customers while perfecting the services they provide to them. The latest solutions include service level agreement, network and services visualization, big data analytics, and customer experience management systems. Refined, timely, and accurate output from the service assurance layer is vital to drive these business-critical systems. Open APIs or standard software interface protocols enable contemporary service assurance applications to exchange real time data with these systems thus minimizing integration time and effort.
Virtualization has become much more important for network operators in two ways. First, it is expected that all service assurance software solutions are able to be installed and operate flawlessly in a virtual machine (VM) environment. The pace of deploying virtual machine environments has picked up dramatically because well-engineered VMs save hardware and associated system administration and maintenance costs, while reducing power and cooling costs.
Secondly, as operators move into software defined networks and network function virtualization, (SDN/NFV) service assurance tools must have robust bi-directional interfaces to the SDN controller and NFV orchestration layer including microservices, and containers for end-to-end discovery, visibility, and management of network resources and services. However, as mentioned above, while doing so, these tools will need to also continue to manage “legacy” and “next-gen” systems through a lengthy transition period lasting years.
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning (AI/ML)
There is substantial interest in AI/ML by service providers, service assurance software suppliers, and industry forums. Everyone knows there is a tremendous amount of information available in service assurance databases, as by definition, these systems are the central repository for network events and behavior. There is promising business value in exploiting AI/ML for network operations, engineering, and planning, as well as service desk, fraud management, security, marketing and executive management.
AI/ML initiatives must be forward-looking, as these nascent solutions need to be able to address problems not yet fully understood as we move further into 5G, digital transformation, virtualization, and IoT. Initial trials are underway using flexible architectures and methodologies. This enables adjustments to be made as experience is gained, thus optimizing results.
Process Engineering & Re-Engineering
Although not thought of as a traditional service assurance solution, engineered, documented, and tested processes optimize the benefits of service assurance systems as they are commissioned. As new technologies are deployed in networks, associated processes must be written or re-engineered to take full advantage of the automation and other benefits delivered by these tools.
Have Questions? Ask our Experts.
At Enghouse Networks, we closely monitor the evolving service assurance needs of network operators worldwide. With more than 25-years of service assurance experience, we do this through direct engagement with our existing customers, meetings and workshops with operators planning to deploy or upgrade their service assurance capabilities, and with industry forums, consultants, and analysts. What drives us is the necessity to have our solutions stay ahead of the needs of our customers.
Enghouse is pleased that our current service assurance portfolio can deliver all of the capabilities summarized in this paper. We are determined to lead our industry with innovative, practical solutions that significantly improve the quality of service our customers offer while reducing their costs to operate and maintain their networks.