Extending transport automation to the cloud

Results from Heavy Reading's Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Networks Market Leadership Survey indicate that automating transport has its own set of challenges, but new cloud-based models are emerging. #sponsored

Sterling Perrin, Senior Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

August 18, 2022

5 Min Read
Extending transport automation to the cloud

Any end-to-end automation strategy must involve the transport network, as transport underpins the network services that ride on top. Automating transport has its own set of challenges, but new cloud-based models are emerging to tackle some of the top barriers.

In May 2022, Heavy Reading conducted the inaugural Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Networks Market Leadership Survey with project partners Ciena, Fujitsu, Infinera and Juniper. The 2022 survey attracted 78 qualified network operator responses from around the world, sharing their views on transport automation timelines and requirements, cloud automation, optical line systems and IP over DWDM.

This blog is the second in a four-part series highlighting the key findings from the 2022 study. It focuses on transport automation challenges and the role of cloud-based automation.


Several challenges stand in the way of transport automation, but operators' challenges differ significantly depending on how far along they are in the process. Heavy Reading divides respondents into two groups. Priority adopters identify automation as "critical" for next-generation transport and are also furthest along in deployments based on the survey. The remaining respondents form the second group of others, or "followers."

For priority adopters, key transport automation challenges are lack of generic frameworks (selected by 53% of priority adopters), lack of open application programming interfaces (APIs; selected by 40%) and complexity (also selected by 40%). Standing in the way for followers, however, are high costs (selected by 46% of followers), lack of in-house expertise (selected by 44%) and, to a lesser degree, complexity (35%).

This data shows that the priority adopters have gone through the progressions of hiring/ training the right employees and securing the budgets and are now running up against the technology implementation hurdles of frameworks and APIs. Based on the data, Heavy Reading makes two observations:

  • The industry's technical focus must home in on customizing frameworks and building open APIs for the next phase of progress.

  • Followers will ultimately benefit from such development, as these are the next set of hurdles they will encounter in their automation rollouts.

Figure 1: What are the primary barriers to automating your transport networks? (priority adopters vs. others) Note: Priority adopters = respondents who selected transport automation as 'critical' n=48; n=30 Source: Heavy Reading Note: Priority adopters = respondents who selected transport automation as "critical"
n=48; n=30
Source: Heavy Reading

Cloud automation

Cloud adoption is a growing trend within communications service providers (CSPs), as they rely on the cloud model for critical functions in operations /business support system (OSS/BSS), cloud-based network functions and other leading-edge as well as more mundane applications. The list of cloud adopters is growing and includes new operators, such as Rakuten, as well as established Tier 1 companies globally.

Heavy Reading surveyed network operators on their interests and plans for using the cloud model specifically for transport automation applications. An overwhelming 92% of service providers surveyed plan to use the cloud in some form for transport network automation, with just 8% reporting they are undecided.

A hybrid model of both public and private cloud is the preferred approach for the majority of respondents (52%), whereas 31% are planning private cloud only for transport automation. Public cloud — which involves multi-tenant and shared infrastructure — is the most advanced form of cloud, and the data indicates that most network operators are not yet comfortable with this model alone. Just 9% of the survey group is planning public cloud only deployments.

Significantly, the cloud model can address several of the top barriers to transport automation identified in the survey. For example, cloud applications address generic frameworks by focusing on specific use cases that are tailored to specific needs. Availability of applications in the cloud helps address automation complexity and also reduces the software development burden on in-house staff. Not surprisingly, priority adopters are more bullish on cloud-based automation compared to their follower counterparts — a likely indicator for where the rest of the industry will head as followers' automation strategies mature over time.

Figure 2: Does your organization plan to use transport network automation applications from the cloud? n=77 Source: Heavy Reading n=77
Source: Heavy Reading

Digging further into cloud trends, Heavy Reading asked respondents to identify which transport use cases they are considering first for public cloud. Topping the list are network configuration and compliance management (selected by 31%), network observability and service assurance (selected by 30%) and traffic engineering (also selected by 30%).

Heavy Reading expects that less critical tasks will move to public cloud first, as operators typically take a measured approach to adopting new technologies. Tasks like network configuration and service assurance fit with this view since implementation problems will not break the network. In this regard, the high scoring of traffic engineering is a bit of a surprise because it is more critical to the functioning of the network.

Figure 3: Which use cases would you consider first for public cloud-based automation in transport? n=77 Source: Heavy Reading n=77
Source: Heavy Reading

Looking for more information?

The Open, Automated & Programmable Transport Network
Open, Automated, & Programmable Transport Networks: A 2022 Heavy Reading Survey

— Sterling Perrin, Senior Principal Analyst, Optical Networking & Transport, Heavy Reading

This blog is sponsored by Juniper.

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About the Author(s)

Sterling Perrin

Senior Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Sterling has more than 20 years of experience in telecommunications as an industry analyst and journalist. His coverage area at Heavy Reading is optical networking, including packet-optical transport and 5G transport.

Sterling joined Heavy Reading after five years at IDC, where he served as lead optical networks analyst, responsible for the firm’s optical networking subscription research and custom consulting activities. In addition to chairing and moderating many Light Reading events, Sterling is a NGON & DCI World Advisory Board member and past member of OFC’s N5 Market Watch Committee. Sterling is a highly sought-after source among the business and trade press.

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