Services Automation Gets Its Day in the Sun

Service providers are looking to compete more effectively today, while preparing their networks to support more dynamic, on-demand and customized service options in the coming years. With ubiquitous fiber and Carrier Ethernet standardization, a key area of differentiation for carriers is service deployment speed and service-level agreements (SLAs).

New service automation software is emerging that helps carriers evolve their network and OSS toward an on-demand service delivery capability that provides flexibility for easy service upgrades or changes as a customer grows.

Service providers are looking to compete more effectively today, while preparing their networks to support more dynamic, on-demand and customized service options in the coming years. With ubiquitous fiber and Carrier Ethernet standardization, a key area of differentiation for carriers is service deployment speed and service-level agreements (SLAs).

New service automation software is emerging that helps carriers evolve their network and OSS toward an on-demand service delivery capability that provides flexibility for easy service upgrades or changes as a customer grows.

The Perfect Storm

The Ethernet services market is undergoing a paradigm shift with potentially huge implications for providers delivering retail, business, wholesale, mobile backhaul, and cloud services. The convergence of CE 2.0, SDN, and NFV technologies promises to accelerate the ability of service providers to develop and deliver more scalable, dynamic and customized services and applications to more locations over more efficient and cost-effective networks.

Despite all of the current hype around SDN, it will take time for SDN and NFV technologies to reshape how most networks are built and operated and to significantly impact the competitive services landscape.

But flexible, high performance networks need a network-wide operation support system (OSS) functionality to automate service provisioning.  Today, service orchestration is specific to each network hardware vendor, which requires a semi-manual service deployment process that results in service deployment in weeks or months. Most service providers face a huge challenge when it comes to the network automation and service orchestration required to cost-effectively support tomorrow’s services.

Service providers generally need to re-architect their operations support systems and networks to be open, programmable and virtual. Seamless integration requires a level of automation currently not possible with existing service delivery systems that were designed for an era in which long service rollouts and activations were the norm. These systems generally are network and element-centric and lack service awareness. They also require a high level of skill and involve disparate, error-prone and time-consuming manual processes that are not suitable for a cloud delivery model.

Service Deployment Haze

Source: Transition Networks

Today, service providers are looking to turn up customers and services quickly.  Services need to be turned up in a matter of minutes and hours as opposed to days and months.  There is an overall need for centralized service creation, management and delivery to reduce technician dispatches and labor costs.  The benefits of these are faster recognition of revenue and differentiated services.

When you look at the typical lifecycle of a circuit there are many manual steps that need to take place.   Every time a network configuration needs to be completed manually, complexity is added to the process and there is the risk of human error in the provisioning process. The process shown in Figure 1 is not new, but shows the typical process an Ethernet circuit goes through from order to provisioning and monitoring.

With each new customer order, service providers must provision and turn-up the circuit to activate the service. This provisioning process includes configuration of many devices, including those elements that are far from the central office such as network interface devices or access switches. It also involves running tests on each piece of equipment to validate that the service provisioning has been done correctly and that the services are performing as specified.

Once the service is running correctly, the circuit is handed over to the customer so they can put their traffic on it.   However, when service level agreements (SLAs) are involved, service providers need to continuously monitor and manage key performance metrics to ensure there are no SLA violations.

Service providers also need the ability to detect, isolate and resolve any faults that may come up with the circuit. This process or lifecycle continues until the circuit is decommissioned.  

With manual service activation and provisioning the delivery of a new service to a customer can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days.

A Sunny Day for Service Automation

Source: Transition Networks

Service providers universally are looking for technologies that will help them automate the complex process of provisioning services and turning up circuits. Service providers seek to eliminate or reduce the time and labor costs associated with service portfolio management and the dispatch of personnel to customer sites while looking to improve the customer experience and recognize revenue more quickly by providing faster order fulfillment.

Services automation software abstracts the configuration information for each piece of hardware in the network and can program that equipment with new service information.  This accelerates and simplifies the provisioning process while giving service providers an accurate view of network assets for capacity planning.  Services automation provides the ability to dynamically modify services and the ability to streamline configuration of many service offerings.

As shown in Figure 2, with automation, the provisioning process can be simplified down to a few steps, the first two of which only need to be done one time for a set of service options.

  • Define service templates. Typically, a service designer will create templates for predefined CE 2.0 services, such as an Ethernet Private Line (EPL), Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL), or Ethernet Virtual Private LAN.
  • Create a catalog of service offerings. Next, the designer will use these templates to create a catalog of service offerings with a range of feature choices, including UNI service attributes, bandwidth profiles, service OAM and protection schemes. Examples could include Gold, Silver, and Bronze EPL, EVPL, or EVP-LAN services or a particular set of features optimized for mobile backhaul applications or customized enterprise services.
  • Choose the end points and push attributes for service provisioning. The last step is the most complex and time consuming without automation, but it is the easiest step with automation. Here, a network professional selects the service end points and pushes the service attributes and configurations to the end devices. The CE 2.0 service is then automatically provisioned without any steps needing to be taken at the customer site other than powering up the device. All service attributes are checked by a rules-based system, which eliminates the human errors that can occur with manual provisioning.

In addition to the benefits above, the automation solution permits service-centric provisioning of OAM, pre-provisioning of services, flexible, on-demand bandwidth policies, scheduling of backups of configuration files, and bulk firmware upgrades as well as a complete inventory and auto-discovery of all network elements. It also allows provisioning within a multi-vendor environment using an open API.

The open API allows dynamic programmability of the network by abstracting the provisioning and operation of the network and services for seamless application, BSS/OSS and partner/customer integration.

By utilizing the service automation tools that are available today a service provider can align and capitalize on the Ethernet services market shift with faster time to revenue for dynamic, differentiated services.

About the author: Jon Collins is Sr. Product Manager for Transition Networks.  He can be reached jonc@transition.com.