Status Update: Service Assurance for Virtualized Networks

Posted by Mae Kowalke on Thursday, October 06, 2016 with No comments
Telecom operators are taking a big risk by moving toward greater reliance on software to deliver their services. But, they have no choice but to take that risk; the virtualization train has left the station. That’s the overall conclusion reached in a recent RCR Wireless report (co-sponsored by Accedian) exploring how operator are addressing service assurance for virtualized networks.

A companion webinar moderated by RCR Wireless’ Dan Meyer, features discussion on the topic by panelists from Exact Ventures, AT&T Labs, NetScout, EXFO, and HPE. If you don’t have time to watch the full replay, here’s a summary.

Won’t happen overnight

To set the tone, Greg Collins, Founder and Principal Analyst, Exact Venture, described the evolution toward virtualized networks and services as a decade-long transition in both architecture and business processes. The market is small now, and physical networks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon; operators aren’t interested in writing off billions in existing investments.

Nonetheless, virtualization is the direction things are headed—a complex transition involving many new layers of software and hardware, with new technologies and old processes likely not meshing well.

Given that, Collins stressed that operators and vendors need to be very careful not to shoehorn new technologies into traditional ways of doing things. DevOps is critical.

Automation key to QoE

Chris Rice, VP of Advanced Technologies and Architecture, AT&T Labs, noted that although the technology is changing, end goals aren’t: operators still need to deliver reliable services to customers, and customers ultimately care mostly about how well their voice and data connections work, not how that was achieved.

In other words, call it “service assurance” or “service quality management,” and you’re basically talking about the same thing. And, especially with the move to new architectures, it’s crucial to create intelligence about how the customer is seeing the service—quality of experience (QoE) is the lynchpin of success.

Virtualization may ultimately given operators more ability, but it does introduce complexity around achieving a closed loop for service quality management--especially given that this has to be achieved in a hybrid (physical and virtualized) environment.

Automation is the key here, Rice stressed. Manual repairs are no longer tenable in the highly dynamic, real-time world of virtualized networks and data-centric services. Some human intervention will always be necessary, but the goal should be to create as much machine learning as possible.

Living in a real-time world

Vikram Saksena, Office of the CTO, Cable Markets, NetScout, elaborated on the need for automation by noting that the pace at which changes are made in networks is dramatically different between physical and virtualized environments. Changes to traditional, physical networks took place on the order of weeks or months. Virtualized networks, which are exponentially more agile, involve changes taking place on the order of minutes.

In such a dynamic and agile environment, instrumentation must provide real-time visibility, end-to-end, across the entire network and all its layers. That’s a tall order!

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this, Saksena stressed that any workable virtualized service assurance solution must be built to drive orchestration on-demand. And, for newer types of services, assurance should be built into the service itself.

A new kind of DevOps

Ihab Mahna, Solutions Architect, EXFO, brought back up the role of DevOps--or something like it—to accelerate innovation in the telecom market. (He explained that the DevOps lifecycle will still exist in virtualized world, but will be organized differently.) Operators have their eyes on the prize: be able to generate revenue faster.

That goal can’t be reached, though, unless operators are able to confidently avoid negatively affecting the user experience as they move toward virtualization. Getting to that point is a multi-step process, and operators are now reaching phase two: the ability to scale their virtualized solutions for commercial deployment.

Which phase are we in now?

Bala Thekkedath, Director of Marketing NFV, HPE, described phases a bit differently, identifying three major milestones on the road to service assurance for agile, NFV-based and hybrid services, culminating in the ability to automatically detect and resolve problems, identify opportunities and enable ‘fast fail’ or new designs, and use intelligence to improve and add value to processes.

Or, to put it another way, the final step combines network intelligence with closed loop and model-driven assurance, to create a self-driven, sustainable system focused on detecting the majority of problems before customers perceive it on the service level. The focus becomes the user experience, not just how well the network is ‘working.’

Watch the full webinar replay, “Assuring the Virtualized Networks of the Future” for a deeper dive into the topics summarized above, plus an informative Q&A covering the roles of vendors, IoT, SDN, and open source. Also, grab your copy of the companion report, “Service Assurance in an NFV and SDN World: Assuring the Virtualized Networks of the Future” from RCR Wireless.