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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Virtualized Networks: What About Performance Assurance?


Around the globe, pretty much every telecom service provider is either running a network functions virtualization (NFV) proof-of-concept, or has already virtualized some areas of their network. In doing so, a major concern they have is how to effectively perform test and measurement (T&M) of these dynamic network environments which, if not properly assured, threaten carriers’ main competitive advantage: network reliability. Here, Accedian’s VP of International Sales, David Dial, explains what it takes to fully assure virtual networks, and how our solutions uniquely address this need.

What’s required to fully assure performance and user experience in a virtualized environment?

DD: Network performance assurance for virtualized networks goes far beyond traditional T&M. Essentially, what’s needed is an advanced operations support system (OSS) designed for an IP world, capable of providing real-time performance information at a very granular level to meet the challenges of quality of service (QoS) assurance in complex network environments.

That’s what Accedian provides in our software-based SkyLIGHT solution that covers Layer 2 and Layer 3 performance monitoring, service activation testing (SAT), bandwidth utilization monitoring, and distributed packet capture information—unified in a single platform for multi-service network environments.

How does the convergence of mobile and fixed networks affect performance assurance?
DD: As networks converge to serve wireless, business, and residential customers—and performance parameters for IP-based services become less tolerant of faults—QoS assurance is becoming increasingly challenging. It’s not viable to continue spending significant CapEx and OpEx for costly handheld test gear to attempt identifying network issues during scheduled maintenance windows. Nor is it cost-effective to continued placing hardware in a network that is increasingly more distributed and multi-vendor.

The pressure on service providers to provide a high quality customer experience is growing, and network quality is becoming a differentiator in ‘quality wars’ heating up around the globe, as well as a requirement to realize objectives for costly LTE investments.

The use of NFV need not be synonymous with loss of quality management. Accedian’s virtualized performance monitoring and assurance solution is typically placed in a service provider’s data center environment to provide microsecond-accuracy for TWAMP sessions created for different classes of service as well as different packet sizes. Further enhancing this setup, our “smart SFP” modules can originate test sessions in a distributed fashion and support a full or partial mesh quality testing environment depending on the operator’s QoS requirements.

The SkyLIGHT solution is deployed at scale by major Tier 1 operators globally, with several of them planning to move to a completely virtualized version of the platform.

What else makes Accedian’s approach to virtualized performance assurance unique?
DD: In head-to-head competition with traditional handheld test sets, as well as hardware-based solutions, SkyLIGHT has been proven by major Tier 1 operators to be superior in multi-service, NFV network environments—no degradation in performance metric accuracy!

In short, SkyLIGHT provides real-time network state visibility for NFV environments. It serves as the virtualized instrumentation feedback loop required for software defined-networking (SDN) control and NFV orchestration based on OSS policy.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Cable MSOs Leverage DOCSIS 3.1 and NFV for Performance-Assured Business Services


With the advent of DOCSIS 3.1 deployments starting to accelerate in the U.S. cable MSO market, the significance it brings to operators like Comcast and Cox—making it possible for them to deliver gigabit broadband using existing HFC infrastructures—is enormous. MSOs are leveraging the technology as a means of expanding up-market to deliver sophisticated business services to enterprises as well as enhancing their residential services.

DOCSIS 3.1 is “cheaper to deploy than all-fiber networks because it makes use of legacy infrastructure, and the technology vastly expands cable broadband capacity, making it easier to introduce new gigabit-speed services,” explained Light Reading Senior Editor Mari Silbey in an article outlining the effects of the technology over the past few years.

Further, a lot of what’s possible with DOCSIS 3.1 (more capacity and speed, expanded capabilities for managing bandwidth and delivering higher-bandwidth services) feeds into the virtualization trend that has come to the forefront of the MSOs’ technical arsenal. This ties directly into the need for sophisticated performance assurance required to meet commercial service level agreements (SLAs) and retain residential customers.

DOCSIS 3.1 and Service Assurance

To compete with telcos in the premium business services market requires MSOs to establish a reliable means of SLA-grade performance assurance. Further, DOCSIS 3.1-based GbE services need to be on par with fiber-based offerings as most businesses are more concerned about reliability and performance than pure bandwidth. Connectivity to the cloud, for software as-a-service (SaaS) applications, is operationally crucial for enterprises.

Committing to guaranteed uptime, bandwidth availability, and rapid mean time to repair (MTTR) are therefore prerequisites for MSO success in the enterprise market.

The conundrum facing MSOs is that current DOCSIS modems don’t offer integrated performance monitoring, service turn-up testing, operations and maintenance (OAM) demarcation, and other key features needed for business services delivery. These capabilities must somehow be added, in a way that has minimal impact to the cost of deploying such services.

Accedian has been extremely successful in working with the MSO market to use network functions virtualization (NFV) for delivery of network interface device functionality in a small, programmable device—enabling end-to-end OAM visibility, hardware-based demarcation, performance monitoring, troubleshooting, and service turn-up. This type of virtualized instrumentation simplifies and assures the full business services over DOCSIS service delivery lifecycle.

How Accedian Can Help
Accedian’s ant module—a small form factor, FPGA-based device that works directly with network elements to provide advanced performance assurance capabilities, centrally managed using the Accedian SkyLIGHT VCX controller software—fills the gap for MSOs looking to expand their service assurance and delivery capabilities. In addition to standard cable modem/ant module deployments, MSOs are now embracing what can be done by installing a virtualized version (software only) of the ant module onto a universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) x86 box, or by partnering with manufacturers to include the ant module functionality in their cable modems.

The latter option is finally possible because of the potential inclusion of Accedian’s agent in cable modem DOCSIS 3.1 silicon, rather than requiring the addition of ancillary hardware daughterboard(s) or SFP port(s). With the “room” now available in the DOCSIS 3.1 silicon, cable MSOs are encouraging modem manufacturers to revisit the inclusion of an Accedian agent in their hardware.

This opens up a large set of new opportunities in the commercial—and conceivably also residential—cable market. Further, embedding the Accedian agent into the cable modem and/or uCPE dovetails directly into the MSO trend toward adopting SD-WAN for business services delivery.

Beyond performance monitoring metrics like delay, delay variation, and packet loss, the latest generation of ant modules (and the ant agent) introduces advanced assurance capabilities like granular bandwidth utilization metering, remote packet capture, and generation of standards-based testing (e.g. RFC2544 SAT, Y.1731 performance monitoring) between sites/branch locations. These capabilities deliver tremendous OPEX savings for MSOs, as well as the ability to differentiate their products and upsell additional services.