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Automation of Provisioning Still Elusive Goal

Carol Wilson

Automation remains the key for service providers to get to more rapid service provisioning, but the paths to automation are many and varied and each service provider is in effect on their own journey.

That was one impression left by an expert panel on Rapid Service Provisioning at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in Chicago in mid-June. Panel moderator and Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Ari Banerjee noted that his research shows about two-thirds of service providers are looking for an order-to-activation infrastructure that can handle automated order flow-through for complex IP services, streamlined service order management and automation of all aspects of the process.

The majority of those same service providers said manual order entry processes and delays/inaccuracies created by those processes were key contributors to delayed activation of services.

Banerjee's calculations, based on several measurements -- the average reported fallout rate of orders, the average number of times an engineer is engaged to fix a problem, and the average number of truck-rolls involved -- shows a financial impact of $10 million per million orders received. That explains why service providers are so determined to find automated processes they can use to eliminate the errors that slow things down.

One key part of that will be getting a common engineering service model, which defines service requirements in a generic way, said Mounir Merhi, VP-IT architecture, design and delivery for Tata Communications Ltd. . "Beyond that, creating common APIs that can be exposed to providers and network operators so they can code to those APIs -- that will help us get the hands out of the system, which is what causes the fallout," he said.

Multivendor complexity
In today's networks, service providers can do rapid service provisioning for a single technology or single vendor's equipment, but in the real world with multiple vendors and complex networks, it's a different story, he said.

"In order to get to zero-touch provisioning in such networks, we need very clean data -- 99% clean -- and to get to that, you can't have the human touch," Merhi said. "We need a standardized approach and standards are there."

He was encouraged by the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) presentation a day earlier in which Bikash Koley said the Internet giant is also looking for a common engineering model and willing to work with the telecom industry on developing that. (See Google to Open Key Network Models for Industry Comment, Standardization.)

Today, many applications don't expose data in standard formats, which makes it hard for service providers to tie together technology from multiple vendors, said Prabhu Ramachandran, director, WebNMS , and that's one thing service providers should be pushing their vendors to provide.

Ramachandran also pushed for network management vendors to be more like orchestrators, able to move up the value chain and deal with multiple network elements through open APIs.

Today, many of the pieces are in place and standardized enough to enable functions such as end-to-end service assurance, based on having intelligent devices at the customer premises, said Eitan Schwartz, VP, RAD Data Communications Ltd.

Virtual potential
Virtualization, through SDN and NFV, offers the potential of simplifying things by creating one centralized place through which new features are delivered via software, said Mitch Auster, senior director, Market Development at Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN). It's possible today, without replacing existing hardware, to create a layer of abstraction: Auster cited OpenDaylight, the industry group that created its own open source SDN controller, as one approach to doing that. But it is still very early days for that process, he conceded.

Auster believes it's possible to move fairly quickly to a standard device model, using open source software such as OpenFlow. Ciena is already able to control its Carrier Ethernet gear as well as routers from major third-party vendors, he said.

Diego Lopez, senior technology expert, Telefónica Investigación y Desarrollo SA , also sees NFV as an ultimate solution but noted that moving to NFV will probably make things uglier initially until a number of issues are resolved.

Lopez compared the current state of NFV to the point in the making of homemade mayonnaise where the eggs and oil are first mixed together. The initial result is pretty ugly, he said, but with the hard work of continual beating, the results can be good.

The Telefónica technology expert used another food analogy to explain how NFV will enable the automation process by creating a layer of abstraction over the messy "spaghetti bowl" of network equipment and connections existing today. He added later, however, that it is important to change the overall thinking to focus on functions and not just on nodes, links, and boxes.

"I think we are just starting to scratch the surface of the revolution," he said.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/7/2014 | 9:17:30 PM
Vendor incentive
The current incentive in the marketplace is against vendor interoperation. Lack of interoperability increases customer lock-in. 
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/7/2014 | 9:16:43 PM
Re: Spaghetti, mayonnaise, and automation
I've never made mayonnaise. I never considered this a liability in a technology career.
Scott Sumner
Scott Sumner,
User Rank: Blogger
7/4/2014 | 10:18:45 AM
Closing the automation loop
Hi Carol,

Great article.  This is something we have been discussing with a number of customers and we see that they are progressing quickly towards user-defined cloud services, and automated provisioning / service parameter updates on the fly.  The component that still seems to be manual is the initial validation of a new service.  To ensure that SLAs are met, and performance meets the customer-specified bandwidth profile, for example, Service Activation Testing using a standard like RFC-2544 or Y.1731 are normally used for turn-up / birth certificate validation.

I would expect that this, too, needs to be automated, triggered by customer service changes (on demand or scheduled).  This technology exists today to perform these tests using virtualized instrumentation, it's the integration with the user-portal and automation applications that need to be polished.

Have you heard any noise about this side of the service provisioning equation?


Susan Fourtané
Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Blogger
7/4/2014 | 7:05:10 AM
Spaghetti, mayonnaise, and automation

Service providers surely see that automation is taking over every industry.

Not jumping into the wagon to find automated processes with which they can eliminate errors in order to speed things up would be silly and risky. 

I imagine the panel discussion took place before dinner. That would explain the thoughts on spaghetti, mayonnaise, and maybe other food analogies. :D

User Rank: Light Beer
7/3/2014 | 7:03:08 PM
Automation of Provisioning Still Elusive Goal

I couldnt help but think of an issue for service providers that is multi-vendorrelated....It seems that either the programmers force upgrades or the receivers need to be sent in for firmware upgrades.  I would wonder if you are address this part where a vendor supporting automated firmware management or a universal activator for multivendor equipment to treat satellite receiver firmware backup and restore.  I mention that because satellite receivers represent the largest quantity of headend items, 75-100 or more.


thank you-Frank 
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
7/3/2014 | 5:50:30 PM
Re: Centralized versus distributed intelligence
Mostly, folks talk about centralizing control as part of the automation process but there has to be distributed intelligence as well in the virtual world for a lot of functions. So it's not an either-or situation. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/3/2014 | 5:31:34 PM
Centralized versus distributed intelligence
Where is the goal of automation ?
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