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Guest View: A network with a conscience – it’s all about making sense of big data

Nan Chen, Co-Founder and Executive Vice-Chairman of CENX and President of the MEF | June 20, 2014
An immense amount of data would be required to adequately describe a Tier 1 network's topology, resources and services – data scattered across multiple operational support systems, each holding a partial and often mutually inconsistent set of data. What is needed is a comprehensive information model of the network – one that is consistent, trustworthy and offering a clear window into its operation.

Ethernet is forecast to dominate over 75% of business bandwidth by 2017. According to Heavy Reading, competition increasingly targets performance and quality of experience in the enterprise and data center markets - driving demand for high speed Carrier Ethernet between branch offices, cloud services providers and other data centers.

So mobile, wireline and cloud data center service providers rely increasingly on third party access vendors (AVs) to fill gaps and increase footprint. Coverage is ensured, but often with deployment delays, compromised performance and quality - because off-net circuits across multiple carrier networks are a challenge.

Unlike TDM - where connectivity service is the same whoever provides it - each AV has a unique Ethernet service definition. Orchestrating such complexity requires manual processes that increase risk of error and delay time to revenue.

What is needed is a "network with a conscience":  a unified, consistently updated services information model integrating all this data on a level above today's operational support systems (OSS). The model should support critical inter-carrier requirements, such as audit and inventory, ordering, fault isolation and SLA management. "Big data" analytics to audit, reconcile and correct this data creates a detailed picture right down to circuit detail.

With service orchestration, the operator can now accelerate delivery, reduce OPEX and boost service quality and agility. The transition to software-defined networking (SDN) is also easier because virtualized network functions and SDN controllers become just another set of data sources.

This "network with a conscience" is already being deployed and proving its value.

The limits to Legacy OSS

Off-net circuits allow far less visibility of performance and inventory, as each provider has its own Ethernet service definition and configuration across different vendor equipment. Ordering requires lengthy manual processes.

Inventory data is often limited to ordering details, making it impossible to get a real-time view of Ethernet assets serving all customers, regardless of provider. Monitoring impacts on service performance and SLAs is another challenge. Also, in the transition from TDM to Ethernet, how can providers be sure of getting the bandwidth they pay for when using off-net Ethernet?

TDM OSSs are no solution: because TDM networks cannot be oversubscribed, there is no allowance for the complex connection admission control and performance monitoring so essential to Carrier Ethernet. Also today's OSSs assume a relatively homogenous network, whereas variations in technology and service definitions evolve across regions, requiring a lot of OSS customization. As one of many buyers, service providers cannot influence how AV OSSs evolve.

Each OSS must hold knowledge of the network in its own database, with variable data structures and naming conventions. This includes inventory systems, fault systems, activation systems and performance systems each of which could cross multiple TDM, Ethernet, IP, ATM or DSL domains. At the same time, there is significant information overlap in details such as network elements, cards, ports, and topology data - all of which need to be kept synchronized and up-to-date.

 

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