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April 17, 2018
Underlying Verizon's latest offer of virtualized network service bundles is the kind of automation and closed-loop service assurance the telecom industry is rabidly chasing right now. And that same effort and approach will soon fuel a customer portal for ordering services in a more streamlined way, according to Vickie Lonker, Verizon vice president of product management and development. (See Verizon Launches Virtual Service Bundles.)
The goal of the Verizon VNS Solution Bundles is making network services easier to consume by taking the most popular functions and creating templates that enable pre-packaged service chains, combining Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s network infrastructure with hardware and software from vendors, including Checkpoint Software, Cisco, Fortinet, Palo Alto Networks and others.
As Lonker tells Light Reading, however, automation that goes beyond orchestration of service chains is the key, and closed-loop service assurance is what ultimately makes all this work.
Figure 1: Verizon's Vickie Lonker
"While we had the ability to do service chains for quite a while, and we've had orchestration that helps us tie them together, what is different here is tying them together in an automated fashion without humans to intervene and do a lot of heavy lifting to make it work," she says.
Humans are involved in the high-level design of the templates and in ongoing support of customers who constantly clamor for specialized things, Lonker says, but extracting manual intervention from the full-service lifecycle of these pre-provisioned services enables Verizon to offer them more easily and to a wider range of customers. This is the kind of automation that likely will reduce jobs in the telecom sector. (See UK Dinosaurs Decide AI Does Not Threaten Extinction.)
Closed-loop assurance must be a key part of what is to come, however, because it isn't enough to simply get a service up and running; automating the way the network responds to problems is also important, Lonker says. In Verizon's case, the orchestration of virtual network services is tied back into its operating support and business support systems -- OSS and BSS -- via the service chain so that faults or failures automatically trigger a response, based either on how the network is programmed or customer-established policy.
"We have our own OSS and BSS systems that understand when there has been a fault, for example, that's an easy example, and the tools tell us if the fault is on the device or if it's in one or two of the functions on the device," Lonker explains. "The functions interoperate with one another and we know what corrective action needs to be taken, whether you re-instantiate the function or restart it or whatever the case may be, so all of that is automated now in closed-loop process."
The best-case scenario is that the fault is addressed before the customer ever knows -- "that is the hope and promise," she says. "And as we get better with improved analytics and additional machine learning capabilities, it becomes less obvious to the customer."
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Alternatively, customer policy can be invoked: If network congestion impacts an SD-WAN service, for instance, a customer policy would determine which traffic is prioritized over that reduced bandwidth.
All of this is hard work, Lonker admits, and Verizon drew on tools provided by its vendors but also developed some of its own. One of the ongoing issues is the lack of true interoperability of virtualized network functions, requiring more hands-on work to enable an automated process behind service chaining.
Ultimately, Verizon would like to put some of the tools it created for its solution architects into the hands of its customers, to allow them to take more of an "app store" approach to how they assemble their services.
"I think it is doable, we have a tool already called service designer that allows our solution architects to do that and very soon, I will be opening open that up for customer use," she says. "But first, I want to make sure we work out the user experience and the user interface in an optimal way. I can test that with service architects but it has to be even better for customers. We are very close to that."
What that tool would do would allow combinations of services and solutions via pre-approved templates that Verizon has fully vetted and certified, she says. When a customer tries to assemble things in a way that isn't supported, that would be identified as non-workable or Verizon would make the changes needed to make it work, Lonker adds.
The key thing to all these changes is helping enterprise customers move faster in their own business transformations, she notes.
Offering these kinds of service bundles could give Verizon a boost in the SD-WAN market, which Lonker admits is highly competitive and a bit confusing right now. She also says ongoing interoperability issues present a challenge to Verizon and others. Light Reading will have more of the Verizon exec's insights in those areas tomorrow, so stay tuned.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading
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