Hybrid, Virtualized Networks Require Modern, Hybrid Management

author: Grant Lenahan

It sounds obvious, but apparently, its not.

I’ve been working closely with ETSI/MANO, TMForum and TMF ZOOM and several thought-leading carriers implementing virtualization, and I’m observing a disturbing trend: a focus on the virtualization technology itself that seems to be omitting the broader challenges of management systems and processes that are absolutely critical to making it work.

The business value of Virtualization, although delivered by new technology, is that it enables new flexibility, new business models, and infinite product packages, all at low incremental cost. Let’s set out some examples:

  • Services can be scaled infinitely, matching price-point and capacity to need and willingness to pay
  • Services can be turned on and off for any arbitrary time period
  • Bundles can be easily created, likely based on each buyer’s needs
  • Flows and network functions can be placed where capacity exists or where they can be delivered at the lowest cost consistent with SLA needs
  • … And many more

But these benefits do not occur magically; each is dependent on various management functions, implemented in OSS/BSS.   Poor support; limited value.

No one is explicitly ignoring OSS/BSS of course; it’s subtler. In ETSI the focus is on user stories and the technology that closely surrounds NFVs. This is reasonable – people can’t concentrate on sufficient depth and breadth at the same time and make good progress – its just “focus”. The ETSI diagram below illustrates the point – lots of detail in the MANO domain and OSS/BSS – dozens of important functions – are relegated to the top left corner.  In operators the focus tends to be segregated teams – again, good for concentrating expertise, but bad for an E2E view.

Unintentionally, this kind of specialization has historically led to one of two outcomes –neither desirable:

  1. Creation of a shiny new stack for the new technology, which inevitably is a new silo that creates messy, hard to manage integration between the “old” and the “new” and stifles agility, and/or
  2. Forcing existing systems, some of which may not be up to the task, to support the new technology – inevitably poorly, and with similar impact of flexibility and agility.

My point is simple, yet the implementation is subtle and complex – but ultimately very worthwhile. OSS and BSS are critical to realizing the benefits of virtualization, and to monetizing this exciting technology. They must support the same transformational operational models that NFV, cloud & SDN do. And they must do so in an environment that continues to support many non-virtualized technologies, especially those in the distribution (access) network(s). We cannot separate them and focus only on the “new technology” (outcome 1), nor can we assume existing systems are up to the challenge (outcome 2); rather, we can only succeed when we manage the end-to-end business process – across domains — efficiently. In general, while many complex systems will remain, this means a re-think of the E2E architecture

Virtualization is truly transformative but the decisions we make over the next months and years will determine just how extensive and successful that transformation is. As I like to joke (half) – “if you can’t efficiently bill for it, it’s just a hobby.”

Food for thought! Watch this space for function-by-function examples in the near future – Grant



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