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May 12, 2017
Netcracker today is unveiling its latest software release, Netcracker 12, which it says enables network operators to deliver digital services faster by decoupling them from legacy networks and services in a "two-speed architecture," that uses multiple "agility layers" of abstraction and puts key operations components into microservices. (See Netcracker Targets Latest Software at Bridging Digital Divide.)
That probably sounds a bit like buzzword soup, and there's some of that happening in this complex release, which NEC/Netcracker unveiled to reporters Thursday morning in a phone briefing and is laying out to the analyst community today in Cannes (why do they get all the fun?) But there is also a significant amount of substance -- which is likely why Netcracker calls this release groundbreaking -- to what the OSS-BSS giant is attempting to do in support of carrier deployments of virtualization and rollouts of 5G and Internet of Things as well.
UPDATE: At the Cannes event, Netcracker introduced four customers who are all using some of Netcracker 12's capabilities currently. They include a US, Spanish and German Tier 1 telco and a Swedish utility company, according to James Crawshaw, head of Heavy Reading's OSS/BSS research service.
"The common theme is that operators are using Netcracker 12 to replace a mish-mash of older systems," Crawshaw comments in an email. "But as one of Netcracker's own people said - it takes intestinal fortitude to rip and replace BSS.
Among other notable claims, he adds, Netcracker is ranking its analytics capabilities, based on NEC's artificial intelligence engine NEC Wise, as good as or better than IBM'S Watson.
Figure 1: You Want Complexity? Source: Netcracker
For starters, there's this two-speed or multi-speed architecture. The concept isn't new, but in Netcracker's case, its execution is being spelled out clearly. As Ari Banerjee, vice president of strategy, explained, Netcracker has created three "agility layers" -- one each at the business layer, the operations layer and the infrastructure layer -- that create the abstraction that enables a digital services strategy to evolve at a faster pace than legacy services/architecture would allow.
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These agility layers consist of what Netcracker calls "a comprehensive API [applications programming interface] ecosystem" which will allow service providers to create, onboard and monetize new digital services. As a long-time OSS and BSS vendor, Netcracker has the capability to develop APIs to other vendors' equipment, Banerjee says, including its parent company NEC but also a broad scope of other industry players.
Figure 2: A little simpler Source: Netcracker
At the top of this software stack -- all of which is cloud-native or cloud-enabled, by the way -- sits a digital customer enablement capability that, according to Banerjee, provides "a single point of control over customer journey throughout all steps and channels." That means service providers can support customers the way they want to be supported, across multiple devices and service access points, he says.
Included in this layer as well is an e-commerce and marketplace capability, which is essentially a digital storefront that service providers can white label and sell to their enterprises, Banerjee says. The cloud-based storefront will be able to deliver a variety of "as-a-service" capabilities from service providers and third-parties, including a range of virtualized network functions.
At the digital business enablement layer, Netcracker is providing management capabilities for customers and partners, as well as revenues and products, to acknowledge the growing complexity of managing third-party relationships that enable new services and capabilities for end users.
"The business agility layer is really about managing partners, managing customers, billing, charging, collections and bringing together the product catalog, which is the single point where operators can bundle together network services with IT services with applications, and 'as-a-service' all of those together," Banerjee says. And yes, he did just use "as-a-service" as a verb.
In its operations agility layer, Netcracker says it has transformed ordinary operations management into digital operations management, incorporating virtualization operations, including orchestration, to support SDN and NFV deployment, including multi-level SDN controllers.
"Operations enablement is a key layer -- this is next-gen OSS with orchestration," Banerjee says. "It is really about enabling a hybrid service management environment."
That includes any stage of SDN-NFV adoption, he claims, from non-adoption to greenfield companies starting off as all-virtual -- something he admits is rare -- and everything in between. "We have solutions that enable you to manage your infrastructure, your cloud environment, your different controller environments, all of it -- managing services and resources under one singular solution," he says. "So through a single orchestration you can not only manage your physical resources but your MANO, VNF and VIMs [virtual infrastructure managers] but also SDN controllers from different vendors."
Value-added VNFs are delivered from Netcracker's Digital & Cloud Infrastructure, which supports a variety of VNFs, as well as different data center and NFV-Infrastructure deployments and both IoT and machine to machine modules.
Infusing all of this are analytics capabilities that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning, Banerjee says. These are used to both develop customer insights to drive better return on investment and to better manage resources.
Last but far from least is the Netcracker Cloud Platform, which is microservices-based and cloud-native, Banerjee says. By packaging solutions into consumable microservices, Netcracker will enable operators to buy the solutions or pieces they want, without having to necessarily consume the entire package. If someone wants a billing solution, for example, that can be purchased as a microservice.
Like other OSS vendors, Netcracker is also heavily invested in backing all this up with professional services and is increasingly focused on helping operators move into more agile and dev-ops driven processes, he says.
Light Reading has reached out to analysts who will be enjoying today's festivities in Cannes. When they have insights to share -- or critiques to offer -- we'll pass those along.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading
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