TalkTalk Puts Network & IT Convergence to Work

Early days for automation
We also asked Whitbread about how TalkTalk is tackling the challenge of automation in network operations.

"Automation is a significant issue for us," he says, "and I've personally been championing automation since I joined the company six years ago."

One example Whitbread cites is that historically the process of configuring an Ethernet circuit for TalkTalk's enterprise customers had been highly manual. Given that TalkTalk has been adding around 8,000 new Ethernet and Ethernet in the First Mile circuits each year, provisioning was becoming a bottleneck.

Nowadays, TalkTalk uses a service provisioning and activation software platform that automates the processes associated with the creation and activation Ethernet services across the entire fulfillment stack including order management, resource inventory and service activation. Whitbread adds, "This has brought down the cost to serve our customers and the timeframe for delivery of new services."

Whitbread sees a huge number of additional opportunities for automation in network operations.

"In the NOC [Network Operations Center] we've got first line engineers investigating alarms and then escalating issues to second line engineers to fix the problem. All that can be automated with scripts."

That's not to say automation equals job cuts. Instead, Whitbread sees automation as a way to augment the workforce, freeing up their time from mundane activities so they can focus on more value-added, complex tasks instead.

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One example of automation TalkTalk has already implemented takes advantage of SDN. Historically, when a link in the IP network went down it would take the engineers as much as an hour to reroute the traffic. This could have been done automatically with a traffic optimizer which TalkTalk had purchased to automate the creation of traffic-engineering paths over IP/MPLS WANs. However, TalkTalk first needed to get all of its IP routers onto the same version of software in order to use this particular vendor's controller. When completed, this software upgrade will enable the automatic rerouting all IP traffic in the case of a link or node failure.

"It will take away all the manual tasks of rerouting and hence improve the service to customers," notes Whitbread, "but it takes time and a lot of effort to get these things to work effectively. During the same period, we also replaced much of our caching capability out to the edge of the network, also to improve our customer experience."

Whitbread sees plenty of scope to further increase the level of network automation. "There are more and more suppliers knocking on my door every day offering new ways to automate. And we have plenty of automation tools already. It is a question of finding budget for investment [for new tools] and finding the time to implement and utilise our existing tools more thoroughly."

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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