This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of NGN.
New services are the engine of a telecom service provider’s profitability and are critical to customer acquisition and retention. In the consumer market, service innovation centers on digital media, social networking, and gaming. Enterprise services are also rapidly expanding from voice and data to include managed and cloud-based services plus valued-added capabilities like traffic prioritization and scalable bandwidth delivery.
Unfortunately, the existing management systems responsible for provisioning and activating services are not designed to meet the current pace of change and the complexity of new service offerings. We are calling this the complexity barrier – the condition in which operational and development systems curtail the pace of service differentiation. The impact of the complexity barrier includes delays in new product introductions, increased operational costs, and inconsistent quality of service delivery.
To better understand this challenge, it will help to illustrate how services are currently provisioned. Take, for example, an enterprise that wants to connect a new regional office to its corporate network using carrier Ethernet services. As a first step, the customer must place an order with the service provider. Next the service provider must translate the order into a relevant service definition including parameters like identifying endpoints, assigning VLANs, setting up class of service parameters, etc. Finally, the service provider needs to implement these changes through detailed configuration changes on the switches, routers, firewalls, and any other affected networking equipment needed to deliver the service.
Ideally, highly automated and robust systems would handle this whole process, but in reality current systems fall well short of the ideal. The existing processes for translating service models into configuration changes are at the heart of the problem. Current approaches are overly dependent on manual intervention from experts with detailed knowledge of the network and, where automated systems are used, they often use unwieldy scripting code that is expensive to maintain and slow to adapt to requirements for new product offerings. In addition, there are limited mechanisms to ensure the consistency of multiple, interdependent configuration changes.
These problems are further exacerbated by new offerings like video transport, IPTV (News - Alert) services, 4G backhaul, and enterprise carrier Ethernet services, because these services are much more complex to configure, require frequent changes, and because customers are intolerant of delays or disruptions. Provisioning carrier Ethernet services, for example, requires multiple configuration changes – both in terms of the number of boxes touched and parameters configured per box. The frequency of changes is also high, as services are often turned up and torn down and service attributes, like a temporary increase in bandwidth, are changed on the fly. Lastly, customers expect fast service and flawless quality as they migrate from legacy services like TDM-based links to Ethernet-based services.
To break through the complexity barrier, new approaches to management must be scalable, resilient, and fully automated, flowing from order fulfillment through service provisioning and on to configuration changes at the network element. The IETF developed NETCONF and YANG, two relatively new standards, specifically to address these requirements in the communication between the element management systems and the network elements.
Designed for automated configuration, the NETCONF protocol’s transaction management capabilities ensure that complex configuration changes are only committed to live production if they can all be consistently executed for all parameters. Capabilities to validate changes, commit changes in transactions, and roll back to known working state are important components of NETCONF’s transaction management mechanisms.
YANG is a data modeling language designed for use with NETCONF. Developed specifically for the challenges of configuration management, YANG is both a powerful and easy to use tool to describe both service and network configuration parameters. YANG for data modeling drastically reduces the cost and time spent on systems development and allows developers to dynamically provision new services in a fraction of the time previously needed.
Exciting new services continue to drive the growth of the telecommunications industry. Unless the appropriate steps are taken, however, the unnecessary complexity of existing service provisioning systems could become a barrier to the industry’s success. New standards and technologies are available to address these issues, and now is the time to build the right infrastructure to propel us to the future.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi