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October 1998

Meeting Customer Demand: Network Management Is Key


In today's data communications market where the ability to provide differentiated services is a make-or-break factor, network management has become a master key to success. Deregulation has opened the door to competition, relegating speed and performance to near commodity items and raising demands for new and better services. Network management technology is stepping up to meet the new demand. By evolving into a distributed, scalable, service-oriented solution, it now has emerged as a strategic service delivery weapon.

This is quite a leap from its early role as a necessary overhead expense. Today, as a competitive weapon, leading service providers are using network management to:

  • Enable fast network provisioning;
  • Meet customer demands for greater network control;
  • Reduce operating costs; and
  • Provide higher network uptime.

Enterprise customers now have a choice of data network providers. The carrier that can fill the order first, and fill it with an innovative service, is often the one that wins the business.

Automating provisioning by tying it into overall business processes is the most effective way of achieving this goal. For example, integrating provisioning with order entry systems enables service providers to automatically provision circuits (with minimal human intervention) when a customer calls in to place an order. This allows for near real-time adjustments to meet customer needs.

A network comprised of multiservice switches and comprehensive management software enables service providers to provision frame relay, ATM, and IP services on the same hardware platform. This erases limitations by enabling the rollout of services across the customer base. Conversely, when single-service management or hardware tools are implemented, services are tied to specific geographical locations, limiting the customer revenue base. To be truly competitive, services must provide varied Quality of Service (QoS) levels. The provisioning capability must be able to take a "gold, silver, and bronze" approach to service. This allows service providers to deliver services to customers that are tailored to their business needs. In this way, customers can pay only for the throughput and delay they really need. QoS services can be delivered across a number of different technologies including ATM, frame relay, and IP, but can be marketed to the customer as voice transport, e-mail delivery, intranet access, and SNA (Systems Network Architecture) transport, for example.

Service providers are turning to customer network management (CNM) technology to meet the demands of enterprise users who want more control over - and insight into - the operations of their portion of the public network.

CNM service would allow enterprise users to monitor their subscribed portion of the public service provider network for activity and performance information such as circuit utilization, error performance, service quality, and congestion. By providing enterprise users with a secure view of their portion of the public network and 24-hour, real-time access to data, CNM services alleviate enterprise-user concerns about QoS and Service Level Agreement (SLA) delivery. Beyond providing a good vehicle for meeting growing enterprise customer demands for increased access to vital network statistics, CNM helps enterprises to proactively plan for their own "public" network growth before major issues arise.

For service providers, CNM is a competitive tool for delivering and reformatting "public" network information to make it useful to the customer's business. For example, enterprise users do not necessarily want to know about the priority queues in the switches - they just want to know that their traffic was delivered at the appropriate service level. The ability to deliver information on network activity in a graphical format (with tables, charts, and graphs) provides easy-to-understand access to network data for internal and external customers. Service providers can then offer these reports as a new competitive, revenue-generating service.

Every penny saved on network operations is profit. Today's distributed network management architectures save costs by reducing the number of management resources required in a number of ways. These architectures unite with business and OSS systems and provide technologies that make simultaneous support for new users cost-effective and efficient.

By mirroring the Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) model, distributed network management architectures enable service providers to place specific management functions directly into the hands of people who need to use them. This streamlines service provider business operations and enables new end-user services.

For example, network management now enables service providers to perform simple, one-time provisioning from existing order entry systems. This lowers network operating costs by automating end-to-end provisioning across mixed frame relay (and/or ATM, and/or IP…) networks and thereby aligning customer order input with circuit configuration.

In addition, distribution of network information can be streamlined with new Java-based applications that allow common browsers, rather than proprietary software, to be used to access SLA and network-utilization information.

With competition at a fever pace, network downtime can cost service providers dearly in terms of lost revenue and lost customers. New, rules-based fault-management systems can greatly improve network performance and reduce downtime expense by focusing operators on critical alarms and proactively monitoring for trend information. By intelligently correlating and consolidating network event and alarm information, network management prevents storms of SNMP alerts and enables service providers to address critical, service-affecting traps immediately.

In multi-vendor environments, fault management systems can also provide the means for establishing consistency in alarm response processes by performing alarm forwarding to legacy software applications. With the addition of Web-based Java interfaces, fault management can enable both internal personnel and external customers to access real-time alarm information via standard Web browsers.

Providing operators with fast access to precise information can speed corrective response time. Enabling operators and subscribers to proactively monitor the network can be even more beneficial in that it can head off problems even before corrective response is needed.

With more and more service providers entering the deregulated data communications market every day, distributed network management architectures can arm service providers with a truly strategic weapon. By using it wisely, service providers will have the means to differentiate themselves from an increasingly competitive field by offering new switched virtual circuits (SVCs); faster provisioning; better network uptime; and delivery of network management views and control to increase subscriber loyalty.

Pamela Moffitt Dodge is director of product marketing for Ascend Communications, Inc., a leading provider of technology and equipment solutions for telecommunications carriers, Internet service providers (ISPs), and corporate customers worldwide. Ascend delivers a comprehensive set of best-of-breed solutions in the key areas required to build a high-performance, cost-effective public and private network infrastructure from end to end. For more information, visit the company's Web site at www.ascend.com.

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