Why Telecoms Need a More Advanced and Strategic Service Assurance Capability

What features should a modern network operator implement to meet these new challenges?

Anand Gonuguntla, Co-Founder and CEO, Centina Systems

Today’s telecom networks require service assurance systems that are far more interactive and responsive.

In the old circuit-based telephony world of 20 years ago, watching the status of a few thousand network nodes was the way to assure the health of a modestly-sized network.

But today, with the explosion of services via smartphones, Metro Ethernet, and cloud offerings, the number of alarm points to monitor has scaled to the millions, making older methods of trouble-shooting and monitoring obsolete. And as “virtualized” networks come online, even greater assurance capabilities are required.

In short, it’s critical that service assurance steps up to the challenge of today’s evolving networks and fulfills a larger, more strategic role than it has in the past.

So what features should a modern service assurance system have to meet these new challenges? Here are four advanced capabilities:

1. Push Service Assurance Intelligence to Customers

Trouble-shooting and root cause analysis are service assurance fundamentals. But the service assurance systems of yesteryear were never really designed to automatically correlate data across network layers to gain a view of service performance experienced by individual customers. This is because legacy service assurance systems require heavy customization and extensive programming.

Communications Service Providers can no longer rely on their legacy, static service assurance systems because customers are pushing these network operators to provide real-time visibility into the health of their services.

For instance, enterprise customers of Metro Ethernet services want the ability to monitor the status and performance of their services through a web portal where they can view service-level performance by location and benchmark performance data – such as service availability, jitter, delay, and utilization – which can be compared against contractual Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

To provide this greater transparency and customer support, operators need to improve the productivity and functionality of their service assurance systems. One way to do that is to shift the responsibility of maintaining device libraries to their assurance software supplier. With the device library and network integration outsourced, the operator can focus on ensuring customer experience and network performance rather than on building and maintaining custom software to monitor their network.

2. Provide Real-time Service Analytics

A big reason older service assurance systems can’t keep up in the new age is that they weren’t designed to support dynamic network or provide multi-layer service visualization. To tackle this issue, assurance systems must master two skill sets: 1) digest “big data” on status and performancefor devices and services, and relate that to impacted services in real-time; and 2) correlate it all to get a perspective on the quality that individual customers experience.

Traditional Alarm and Performance monitoring are often too little, too late, and too broad, to find what you’re looking for. Today, a service assurance system needs robust, real-time analytics capabilities that sift through the data and interperet hierarchical performance trends, which enables the operator to identify potential service impacts or capacity issues before they impact customer experience.

Visualization of the analytics in a well-designed reporting system is also key.  A modern service assurance system will combine flexible, consolidated visualization with accurate, up-to-date network and service maps.

3. Facilitate Deployment of New Networks and Differentiated Services

Service assurance can provide valuable input for making key network decisions.

In order to determine where to invest, service providers need accurate and real-time performance and capacity analytics to optimize the network spend, as it relates to customers directly and could impact current and anticipated revenue.

A modern service assurance system can provide real-time actionable intelligence needed to make wise decisions, based on network usage, traffic, capacity, and performance by location.

And as new differentiated services or new networks are deployed, service assurance enables the operator to monitor those quickly and not delay future revenue.

4. Support for Virtualization with SDN &NFV

Service providers need to position for the coming roll-outs of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) services and network infrastructure. This not only applies to the network equipment, devices and orchestration software, but also to the service assurance system.

Service providers therefore need a solution that will be able to accommodate a hybrid of legacy and virtualized network infrastructure, and ultimately move to a purely virtualized network. This means that the service assurance solution must have the ability to integrate and correlate information from several different points in the network rather than a single point, as with traditional networks.

Service assurance will need to integrate at the application and control layers as well as directly to the devices at the infrastructure layer, correlate information together in real-time to identify service and customer impact, and also integrate to orchestration systems to facilitate real-time network optimization based on network performance data.

For this to be made a reality, the service assurance system must be pre-integrated with the various SDN and NFV service layers, with out of the box integration to network devices, element management systems and orchestration systems. Without this, providers may not be able to adapt quickly enough to compete effectively.

To keep up with network innovations such as LTE, mobile broadband, Metro Ethernet, and the cloud, operators need to jettison their high-maintenance and slow-to-update service assurance systems and invest in the next generation.