Zero-touch provisioning and deployment are long-standing terms used to describe automation of IT and data center infrastructure. The term Zero Touch Automation is now being used in telecom circles to extend this concept of automation beyond the initial deployment to cover the entire lifecycle of network technology including configuration changes, port changes, security, maintenance, testing, performance monitoring and, ultimately, decommissioning.
While some may see automation as a euphemism for job cuts, I am more optimistic and prefer to look at it as a time saver for employees, freeing them up to do more value-added activities. As Parkinson's law states "work expands to fill the time available for its completion." I see no shortage of opportunities for engineers to add value to the telecom business.
The telecom industry has been on a journey from manual operations to automation for over a hundred years. What's changed recently is the increasingly dynamic nature of the network that comes with the move to virtualization. That drove the TMForum to start its Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management initiative back in 2014. ZOOM aimed to define a new virtualized operations environment and a management architecture that could handle a hybrid of physical and virtual infrastructure.
The A in ONAP stands for automation though its scope extends beyond just automating the run-time of virtualized networks but also to the design time. More recently, ETSI’s Zero-touch network and Service Management (ZSM) specification group have launched to fill in the gaps between various open source and standard body automation initiatives with an initial focus on 5G end-to-end network and service management.
That doesn't mean operators should sit back and wait for Moses to come down from the mountain with the stone tablets of automation. Automation is an iterative and incremental process, not a monolithic solution. We shouldn’t try to boil the ocean, else we risk not getting anywhere. Start small with Python scripting. Try a bit of Robotic Process Automation for back-office workflows. Move from CLI to NETCONF/YANG for device configuration. As David Barroso, Network Systems Engineer at Fastly, says, "Network automation is not just a single discipline; it is a collection of protocols, tools, and processes that can be overwhelming to the uninitiated."
To find out more, join us in Austin May 14-16 to boost your knowledge about cloud-native software and innovation driving data center transformation, for the fifth-annual Big Communications Event May 14–16. The event is free for communications service providers – secure your seat today!
— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading