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For carriers, OSS can become a competitive advantage, not a cost center

Alan Zeichick | Aug. 21, 2015
Operations Support Systems excel in managing traditional networks, but they can be more, so much more, as we look forward to smarter networks that are more responsive to enterprise customer needs.

It's time to change that way of thinking. Upgrading or replacing the OSS to modern standards will not only save the carriers money in the long run, but it will create new business opportunities in the near term.

The place to start is by looking at new standards, like Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO). SDN will make it possible to reconfigure networks in seconds, instead of weeks, without truck rolls. NFV will let carriers implement and upgrade network functions anywhere across the network without adding new hardware. LSO will enable end-to-end provisioning at the click of a button, collapsing the dozens (hundreds?) of steps required to implement services into a single operation.

"LSO makes it easier for the OSS to create services that are on-demand, dynamic, and highly flexible," Abel Tong, Director of Solutions Marketing at Cyan in Petaluma, California, told me. "For the enterprise customer, LSO will make it easier for the OSS to be integrated, and by doing that the enterprise can gain more control over their services."

There's no doubt that OSS modernization is going to be expensive, not only in software, but also in changing how carriers work. Sam Koetter, Senior Product Manager at XO Communications in Herndon, Virginia, told me, "We have one group that's responsible for OSS and another group that's responsible for networking engineering and network architecture. We've learned that we must educate that OSS team about how all this new technology is going to work. What are SDN, NFV and LSO, they ask? What do they mean for the OSS exactly? We must bring other people into this fold so they can understand the new world. It's a people problem."

Standards are another challenge, argued Ken Countway, Vice President of Network Architecture for Comcast. "LSO is making the industry stop a little bit and think about a more standardized approach to OSS. Everybody is going off in their own directions at this point. Everybody is trying to get there fast in their own way. And LSO is going to just slow people down enough that we all align on some common standards in APIs."

Are we ready for this transformation? The standards are evolving, but carriers are on board. I expect it will be about five years before SDN, NFV, and LSO are baked into intracarrier OSS implementations, and maybe another five beyond that before intercarrier OSS systems are smart enough to enable end-to-end customer-driven, on-demand provisioning.

I heard from Nan Chen, president of the MEF — the organization behind the LSO standards, which recently changed its name from the Metro Ethernet Forum — that "We're going to have the first standards for the LSO reference architecture coming out in the Atlanta MEF quarterly meeting in October [2015]."


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