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June 2, 2017 by Phil Fine

Automate to survive and thrive

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In last week’s blog, I suggested that some of the emphasis on SDN and NFV as priority solutions for service providers is misplaced – the primary goal must be automation. SDN and NFV are implementation tools, and may never be the panacea some are suggesting. I also argued that telecom carriers can't sit still waiting for the type of clear standards that DOCSIS provided to MSOs, though those are necessary and must be pursued. Service providers of all types need to take steps toward automation at every opportunity.

So, what’s the first step? The simple answer is mediation. Or hardware abstraction, if you prefer. The more detailed answer depends on whether the service provider is an MSO or a telco.

The MSOs start from a position of having collectively agreed on a set of standards – DOCSIS, PacketCable, and other derivatives – that are widely deployed and provide highly automated operations for HFC residential services. The challenge now is how to move forward. CableLabs developed solutions around standard software components such as DHCP, TFTP, and SNMP in very similar ways that the open source community develops solutions today. The DOSCIS provisioning of PON (DPoE and DPoG) specifications leveraged well-defined management and control interfaces, data models, and workflows to mediate between the DOCSIS configuration manager and the PON manager. In real world deployments, I've seen the time to integrate PON into DOCSIS-managed networks reduced from what could have been many months to mere days.

The telcos also have many automated processes, but each network has unique interfaces, data models, and operations procedures. Fortunately, there are numerous commercial OSS solutions available for telco service providers of all sizes. These OSS solutions are designed to automate service delivery and assurance lifecycles across the entire service chain – network, voice switches, video middleware, email, and more. While time and investment are required, these platforms are quite advanced and capable of integrating new systems within a matter of weeks. The broad adoption of simplified service layer abstraction and cloud-inspired APIs is a big accelerator.

I’ve worked with numerous service providers of all sizes, and while cost savings on the operations side are measurable, what’s most interesting is how many are leveraging automation to roll out new revenue services. Some operators are providing new managed Wi-Fi and in-home services; others are creating off-net revenue sources such as PC repairs and home media installation professional services.

In the end, the need for operational efficiencies will drive automation, and some of the SDN/NFV technologies being developed for the cloud will undoubtedly influence how service providers automate for optimal efficiency. But there is no time to wait. Service providers and their supplier partners must move quickly, and in every possible way, to survive and thrive. Only then will the relationship with subscribers change from one of commodity connectivity to a more dynamic and feature-rich service model.