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OSS in the Cloud? Not So Fast

OSS transformation would be easier if complex systems could migrate to the cloud, but that will take time, standards and more work

May 31, 2011

5 Min Read
OSS in the Cloud? Not So Fast

Cloud services are designed to help enterprises offload the complexity of their IT infrastructure and applications, cutting both their capital requirements and their staffing needs. So shouldn't telecom network operators, which have incredibly complex and capital-intensive IT systems, be moving their back-office systems into the cloud as quickly as possible?

Absolutely, said a slew of Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) experts at the Management World 2011 show in Dublin last week. The problem is, it's not going to happen any time soon.

"OSS as a service is very logical step, but it's not happening yet," says Matthew Edwards, director of the cloud services initiative at the TM Forum . "We are at the talking stage right now."

Among those talking often in Dublin was Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS)'s Michael Lowery, executive director of architecture, who is looking to a cloud approach to unifying and simplifying that carrier's wireline, wireless and cable operations in order to more efficiently offer bundled services on an ASP, or "as-a-service," basis.

In today's siloed world, Telstra needs basics, such as one way of identifying a customer, Lowery says, and that could be solved by cloud-based systems. (See Mgmt World: Telstra Sees ASP Future.)

But Lowery admitted at the Innovation Summit last week that he needs other pieces, such as common service delivery platforms (SDPs), to achieve his goal of a simplified OSS/BSS architecture that delivers services on an access network-agnostic basis.

The problem in general is that today's OSSs are still large monolithic and often siloed systems that need to undergo substantial transformation, consolidation and simplification before they can be transferred to the cloud: Moving today's mess into the cloud would only create a cloudy mess.

Then there's the matter of standards for interfaces between a cloud-based solution and existing legacy systems to maintain data integrity and manage a transition. Those don't exist yet and that process will take time, says TM Forum President Martin Creaner. It likely will start with a set of best practices.

Next Page: OSS clouds roll in

OSS clouds roll in
There is substantial effort underway to design cloud solutions for OSS. At one TM Forum Catalyst demonstration in Dublin, China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), supported by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. , Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Celona Technologies Ltd. , showed how to migrate a national telecom OSS to an infrastructure-as-a-service cloud platform and maintain centralized maintenance and unified management of the cloud-based OSS and legacy systems, through standardized interfaces.

Speaking at the Catalyst demo, Robert Stones, education consultant for Celona, says the idea is not to arbitrarily migrate OSS and data into the cloud, but to strategically put new customers or new services into a cloud-based OSS and demonstrate the ability to synchronize the data from the cloud system with the legacy systems and intelligently manage resources. Moving customer data into a cloud OSS could be triggered by the deployment of a new service and event -- such as moving from pre-paid to post-paid wireless service -- or on an incremental planned basis, Stones says. It would also be possible to do bulk load transfer or even a "big bang" transfer.

"But when we say 'big bang,' we don't mean you move your business processes into the cloud, we mean you move your data and keep it synchronized with the existing process," Stones says. The cloud-based OSS then becomes part of the longer-term evolution and migration strategy for reducing capex, energy costs and other OSS expenses.

Step by step
Telecom service providers are also asking for performance management in the cloud, using mediation layers to pull data from multiple virtual data centers to support SLAs for cloud services, says Michael Heffner, director of product management for Tekelec . Those requirements will create the need for more flexible performance management tools, but they are still evolving.

Next Page: What's ready to go into the cloud today?

Billing systems are the one piece of the operations pie that is cloud-ready, largely because billing systems have been delivered on a hosted basis already.

"Billing systems have been a managed service and can more easily be a cloud-based model," says Sanjay Meweda, vice president of strategy for Netcracker Technology Corp. . "But we are not yet ready for OSS to migrate to the cloud, although sooner or later it will. When that happens, we won't see a one-size-fits-all model -- it will depend on the market, the size, the ability to absorb change and offer solutions, and that will vary from one service provider to another."

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is partnering with global service providers in cloud offerings and is often asked which elements of OSS can be moved to the cloud, says Scott Stainken, general manager, Global Telecommunications Industry, IBM. His answer is real-time billing and charging, for now, with much more to come.

Just words?
Some software vendors say OSS in the cloud can become more of a nomenclature issue than anything else.

"We don’t look at cloud as a new thing," says Chun-Ling Woon, vice president, marketing, of ConceptWave Software Inc. , which has provided software that enables centralization and streamlining of ordering and provisioning processes to eliminate not only costs but also human error and complexity. For example, Colt Technology Services Group Ltd went from operating separate ordering systems in 14 countries to using London-based servers to produce order screens that come up in nine different languages, depending on where the customer signs on, and then generate the appropriate provisioning orders to the local country.

"Colt is not dealing with 14 different representations of some product, it's a single representation that can produce different pricing and different branding, depending on the local site," Woon says. It could also be considered a cloud-based system.

Companies such as Monolith Technology Holdings LLC are also doing "cloud-like" things. Monolith creates service-level management for things such as video services by building a software layer that extracts data from existing systems to create a more efficient management process in advance of standards. The software is built with a 100 percent browser-based user interface and multi-tenancy.

But Jeff Parker, co-founder and president of Monolith, chuckles at the thought of calling his software a "cloud-based solution" because it doesn't live up to the hype around that is "unified agile cloud solutions that scale massively."

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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