Challenges & Opportunities in Network Mergers & Migrations
Increased pressure on service provider business models from other providers, over-the-top (OTT) players, and web-scale companies, has triggered a flurry of mergers between service providers as well as attempts to migrate services from old, OPEX-hungry networks to a modern network. As a result, such mergers and migrations (or M&Ms for short) have become a critical part of many service providers strategies and a vehicle to offering new digital services, for example for 5G and IOT.
The main measure of success for network mergers and migrations is increased network efficiency and resiliency by removing redundant and unused leased capacity, removal of duplication between the networks, improved network resiliency, and better ability to address new services. Unfortunately, traditional network M&Ms have relied heavily on manual labor and processes, which are slow, inaccurate, and expensive, and often end in only partially migrated or merged networks, meaning the goals are rarely reached post-migration or merger.
Moreover, M&Ms are a great opportunity to modernize the network and automate it – as it is clear that automation is becoming more and more a requirement for service providers to stay competitive. Traditional M&M projects typically miss this opportunity and don’t create automated systems and processes to run the new network. What challenges do service providers face today when confronting mergers and migrations – and what are opportunities exist today for automating the various processes?
Challenges in Network Mergers & Migrations
Service providers spend significant amounts of money and time at the beginning of network mergers and migration processes to audit the network and understand how it is structured and how customers are connected to it. This is necessary before the planning phase of the process. Mistakes at this stage imply service outages during the process and suboptimal networks when it is complete. The audit process is labor intensive and error prone.
Inventory systems are typically based on network data that is manually entered and rarely gets updated. By definition, this means that the gap between this data and the actual network state is widening as time goes by and the network evolves. Inventory audits take months to complete, and we’ve found that by the time they’re finished, are already outdated. During mergers and migrations, there are even more churn in network state across vendors and transport domains, making it increasingly more difficult for the inventory to keep up with the network manually. The problems come to a head when it comes to delivering customer orders, often leading to order fallout and customer churn.
Manual migration processes take months if not years to accomplish and are often left partially incomplete. Manual errors often run rampant and delay the process, thereby increasing the number of manhours for specialists. During this time, the provider is forced to operate duplicate networks, typically costing 10s of millions in power consumption and a similar cost in manpower and equipment sparing (all number are per year in USD for tier-1 service providers).
If the right tools are used to ensure the inventory is accurate for the M&M process, the opportunity now exists to automate the collection of inventory data from all network layers and across all domains, and its dissemination to various OSS tools, enabling service providers to avoid manual audits of the network. Real-time resource data offers service providers the ability to fully understand what resources are available, leading to better service provisioning, capacity planning, and trouble-shooting post M&M, removing the guesswork out of future network planning and operations.
Perhaps the biggest opportunity allowed by automating parts of the merger is the ability to shift operations from being process-driven to data-driven. By using accurate, up-to-date data to drive automated, proactive processes instead of reacting to problems using old manual processes, service providers can match the goals of the new network to the goals of the business. The result is a nimble network that avoids problems with minimal human effort and adapts itself to changes in services and to failures.
One of the main repetitive tasks during M&Ms is moving a service from one network to another, either because the service is currently on equipment that will be decommissioned or because the use of network resources can be optimized. The large number of services that must be rerouted, and the non-trivial decisions that must be taken to ensure they are optimally routed after the process, justify automation. Once such automation is in place, new services can be provisioned in minutes, these services can be constantly monitored to ensure their SLAs are met, and remedial action can be automatically taken the moment the SLA is no longer met.
The digital era is here, and service providers are required to take part and begin their own journey towards digital transformation and the automated network. Network mergers and migrations offer the perfect opportunity to take the first steps towards a fully automated network by using automation and network intelligence to enable faster, more accurate, and less costly mergers. While many are looking for an automation “killer app” in future services and applications, the answer may in fact lie in the past: migration of traffic away from legacy networks.