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Eye On IMS

To Change the Network You Have to Change the Operations

By Grant F. Lenahan            October 2006, Volume 1/Number 5


IMS and SDPs have received a lot of attention lately but OSS and operations to complement them have not. Why?One view could be that IMS and SDPs (Service Delivery Platforms) are just more network elements, and they will just enable more services. So we can maintain our existing paradigm.

A second view (we’ll call this the “technology view”) begins similarly, but recognizes that IMS and SDPs really usher in the era of IP multimedia (that’s why IMS is so named). This actually has a significant impact on operations, since measuring capacity, quality and failures in IP networks is vastly different — and potentially more challenging — than in circuit oriented networks.

For all their faults, circuit switched networks were deterministic. Their performance has been understood since A.K. Erlang published his classic paper in 1917. And they don’t often degrade — they fail, generating alarms. Relatively speaking, circuits are quite nice and clean. IP networks, though, act very differently. Two of the main advantages of IP networks are that 1) they support a lot of different services, and 2) they are highly efficient at inter-mixing lots of service streams together, through a form of statistical multiplexing. But these advantages change the long-held norms of operations:

1. There’s no longer a 1:1 relationship between services and facilities

2. IP usually doesn’t fail cleanly, it degrades and not always predictably; one school of thought suggests the behavior is chaotic in nature.

3. Different services on the same facility may be performing differently (e.g., the performance and capacity is fine for email, but not for VoIP or interactive gaming)

Without diving into the details, suffice it to say that traditional network management must shift to service management, and deterministic fault and performance management must become much more statistical and trend oriented. And, I should note, some “operations” functions, such as establishing QoS or assigning bandwidth, should move into the network as real-time policy functions. In fact, as we evolve networks, it seems that everything becomes more real time.

All this, I believe, is true. But while solving these technical issues is necessary, it’s far from sufficient.

A third view is that the rich new world of IMS and SDP enabled services, combined with today’s operations paradigm, is a disaster in the making. If IMS is to succeed, it must enable the development of many new services, targeted to dozens, hundreds or thousands of niche markets. Personalization is clearly the trend in communications, “the market of one”. For companies trying to gain or defend market share and profit margins, service innovation and personalization is essential.

Given today’s operations paradigm, systems and processes, operations costs increase proportionally to the number of services introduced, the number of customer interactions, and the breadth of services to be managed. Think about that. Service innovation and personalization is going to increase these all by orders of magnitude. IMS and SDP’s aim is to decrease the cost and time to introduce new services dramatically, in order to make this rich service environment economical. But that means that operations costs — from assurance to fulfillment to customer care — could also increase by orders of magnitude. This clearly isn’t financially viable.

For a typical operator, opex dwarfs capex. And within opex, labor-related operations costs are the single largest component of the total operating expense pie. So, while it’s not nearly as sexy as IMS, and though it’s not as widely discussed, operational transformation Personalization is clearly
the trend in communications, “the market of one".
may be the single most critical financial investment operators will make as they move forward with IMS, its relatives and resulting services. We have seen many operators address this by simply reducing headcount but what is really needed is an investment in the systems necessary to maintain business performance.

I predict that the most successful operators in the near future will build their businesses on three pillars: Digital Content, Personalized Services, and Niche Optimized Packages. Each of these drives up the combinations and permutations that need to be managed, and complicates the value chain. Of course, each also drives up revenue and profit.

In the case of digital content, these permutations could be in the many thousands (specialized narrowcast video) or even millions (every music single in existence, for instance). The number of third-party trading partners, such as copyright holders, will grow enormously. In the case of personalized services, it means that nearly every subscriber’s configuration might be ever so slightly different (combinations of preferences, subscriptions, presence rules, QoS status, etc.).

This is not a transition that can be accomplished by saving 25% through outsourcing, or by riding Moore’s law for another year or two. It requires a re-thinking of traditional business operations in order to realize maximum optimization. This is especially critical given the forecasts that operations actions will grow by orders of magnitude.

Tomorrow’s operations environment must accommodate this seismic change and make it economic. Customer care must be self-provided. Product catalogs must accommodate huge and rich inventories of content and services. Third-party trading relationships must be managed automatically. The network — and OSS — must be automatically configured and updated. Policies that embody both technical rules and business rules must be generated, distributed and configured — smoothly and automatically. Labor cannot enter into every “move, add and change”.

While it’s a tough challenge, it is one we must embrace; profit and success depends on it.

Grant Lenahan is vice president and strategist, IMS Service Delivery Solutions at Telcordia Technologies, Inc. For more information, visit (News - Alerts)

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