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Automation Gets Its Own ETSI Group

Ray Le Maistre

THE HAGUE -- SDN NFV World Congress -- Automation and "zero touch" networking is absolutely critical to the future of communications networking and operators need to get to grips with what it means for their networks, operations and their futures.

That's why a group of telcos and vendors have been trying to figure out what automation means to the communications networks and services community and are set to form a new group within European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to take the conversation further -- but not to create new standards.

So said Klaus Martiny, senior program manager at Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) and vice chair of the Network Operators Council within the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG), the existing ETSI group that will inevitably be closely aligned with the new body. He explained here Monday morning that a group of companies (listed below) have been collaborating on network and process automation for the past few months and now, in order to get the rest of the industry involved, the group is to form a Zero Touch (ZT) ISG at ETSI.

That group will help to identify the architectures and use cases for automation in telecom networks and will publish some documents on those topics soon. But those documents will absolutely not be suggesting any standards, stressed Martiny.

"This is not about founding a new standards body. This is to create a platform where we can communicate with the industry and the open source groups" that are performing complementary work.

The ISG, which is in the process of being formed, will take input from open source groups, from "commercial implementations," operators and vendors and industry standards groups to develop early use cases and provide guidance about what automation can achieve in telco network environments.

The companies involved so far are:

    China Mobile
    Deutsche Telekom
    NTT DoCoMo
    Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE)

The need for some references amongst the telecom community is obvious: There is a realization that automation is going to change the way communications service providers plan, build and manage their networks, as well as affecting service creation and management. That much was made clear here this morning during presentations by DT's Martiny, Diego Lopez, the head of technology exploration and standards at Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) and chair of the ETSI NFV ISG, and Don Clarke, currently the principal architect at CableLabs but for years a senior executive at BT Group.

But even within minutes of the ETSI group's formation being unveiled, some doubts were being expressed by attendees here on the show floor. "There are a lot of politics around this issue" of automation, noted one experienced industry commentator, who requested anonymity. "Some of the major operators in that group have very different views about how this [zero touch networking] will evolve. That group will be hard to manage."

And news that the initial work done by the 14 companies on identifying automation architectures and use cases will now be taken into the ETSI framework disappointed Robert Curran, head of strategic marketing at Aria Networks, which has been developing analytics and optimization software built with integrated artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms for several years.

"That work started months ago and then it went quiet, and now I know why. Taking it into ETSI will only slow things down. We need more activity," said an exasperated Curran.

"Network automation is transformative but what has anyone done so far? Someone needs to break ranks and take a risk, but I'm not sure where that kind of move will come from. It should start with a major company putting the business in charge and working backwards, not considering the network as the starting point. Someone just needs to do something, with support from the CEO and then do it from the top to the bottom of the organization," he added, noting that this didn't mean any kind of wild abandonment by companies in a notoriously risk-averse industry. "We need a radical move but that doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind," added Curran.

ETSI currently has 14 ISGs, 11 partnership projects and 27 technical projects -- see them listed here.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Group Editor, Light Reading

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