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September 2002

A New Premise -- Probeless Architecture


Network operators face a number of challenges, particularly as voice and data networks converge. As networks expand in scope, they become increasingly complex and extremely complicated to manage. The complexity is a result of a number of factors, including:

  • Emerging technologies, such as Internet protocol (IP) transport;
  • Integration of multiple IP and Signaling System 7 (SS7) protocols in a single network;
  • The rapidly changing and unstable nature of IP-based signaling; and
  • The continuous introduction of new telephony services and applications.

Because of the many changes, network operators are challenged to reliably monitor networks that bring together disparate protocols and technologies, such as IP and SS7.

Especially with the current economic environment, operators are carefully scrutinizing technology solutions, such as monitoring systems, before purchasing. They want to make sure that their selections are reliable and flexible and will carry them securely into the future. They practically have to predict which planned technologies will actually take hold and how soon. For example, many thought GPRS (general packet radio services) and IP telephony technologies would be further advanced than they currently are.

Network monitoring has typically been an afterthought for operators � arising after the network equipment has been installed and issues emerge. Operators routinely have required a monitoring system to troubleshoot problems and deployed probes to physically tap the network links to acquire information. The probed approach to monitoring is error prone and lacks redundancy. It also involves a number of expenses, including labor costs for moves and rearrangements and the hardware, software, and mainframe expenses associated with the physical tapping of the links for information.

As traditional monitoring systems increasingly are employed to host business applications, such as those for billing, billing verification, quality of service, and/or fraud detection, reliability of the probed architecture comes into question. Traditional monitoring systems were not generally designed as highly reliable, highly available platforms to support applications. However, operators are relying more often on these types of data collection centers for hosting business applications. The problem is magnified in converged networks where applications, such as those for billing, billing verification, and fraud detection, are just beginning to be created and deployed.

Operators of converged networks require equipment that not only monitors the entire network but also captures data regardless of the transport and consolidates the data into a single view. Such a solution enables personnel and downstream applications to operate seamlessly regardless of the technology deployed.

Other problems surface when the operator does not have a monitoring system for the IP links or has two monitoring systems in operation. In these cases, the operator does not have a consolidated view of the calls crossing the network. For example, when troubleshooting a problem, a customer is not able to perform a call trace that captures the entire call. Instead, an SS7 monitoring system shows the portions of the call transported via SS7, and another system captures the messages transported over IP. Telecom service providers also are challenged by the many different protocols at work in their networks. Invalid interworking between protocols and interworking failures between service providers are at the root of network problems.

Further, as operators deal with the demand to do more with fewer resources, they are searching for products that provide multiple functions with smaller footprints. The fewer vendors, products, and interfaces they have to manage, the better. Competition has increased as operators fight to maintain their subscriber bases by providing sophisticated and high-quality services. As consumers become more savvy with technology and its capabilities, network operations personnel need reliable, easy-to-use tools to help them troubleshoot problems and resolve issues fast.

To minimize the impact of new architectures and services and to manage network expansion, operators need an advanced business intelligence platform to supply reliable, real-time data to business applications. These applications provide for revenue generation such as billing as well as revenue assurance such as quality of service. Operators also need a monitoring application to provide network-wide data consolidation.

A new premise supposes that an integrated and probeless architecture can be used to capture data in IP and other networks for use in monitoring and business applications. In the �new� architecture, probes are eliminated and functions are integrated onto other network platforms. By physically removing the probes and retaining the monitoring platform, the functions remain intact � with many added benefits.

With the integrated solution, operators are able to monitor, maintain, and ensure the reliability of innovative telecommunications products and services implemented across converged networks. They can correct network-wide problems from a single location and monitor and trace calls end to end. They also can supply data for a variety of business applications.

The new premise removes all cabling and auxiliary equipment for timing, muxing, and so forth, which typically are associated with a probe-based architecture. Physical tapping on an external link is no longer necessary with the enhancements of the existing network platforms to provide the message capture function and pass off the data for processing.

Also in the probeless scenario, the carrier-grade platform used for network control is the same equipment that provides the data for the monitoring system, making the critical data needed for business intelligence applications more readily available.

With an integrated system, the ability to monitor the entire network is possible even at the initial network deployment. Data is passed internally from the network equipment to the monitoring system, thus removing the need to externally tap onto the links.

Operators are beginning to look at the network as an improved mechanism for collecting detail records. Detail records may be created from various types of data, including call detail records, transaction detail records, and IP detail records. Currently, data is retrieved from actual switches, a process with a number of flaws. First, detail records cannot be retrieved in real time. Additionally, there is no centralized collection point. An interface onto each switch must be created to retrieve the generated detail records. Furthermore, because the detail records are switch-based, they can only provide data based on the switch�s function. Modifying the detail record data requires the software on the switch to also be modified, which is a time-consuming process.

For these reasons, operators have been changing their focus to the use of monitoring systems as a means of accessing detail records. The detail records are then used to feed business intelligence applications such as fraud detection, billing, billing verification, and quality of service. The associated revenue tied to the applications renders the typical single-threaded monitoring platform no longer acceptable. Instead, availability of data becomes critical. Probe-based monitoring introduces a number of failure points into the detail record collection. With an integrated system, the reliability of the overall system drastically increases. Because the network equipment is responsible for handing off the data, the same carrier-grade platforms that route traffic can be trusted to perform the copy function as well. In many cases, this type of equipment is field proven and well trusted by the operators.

The capability to monitor a network without the use of probes provides a number of benefits to operators. As operators continue to look for ways to do more with less, the ability for network equipment to hand off data for use in a monitoring system becomes a major advantage. By reducing the need for external probes, less equipment is required to support a monitoring system. Employing an integrated product to handle the configuration of the network from a single location conserves resources. Finally, by increasing the reliability of the monitoring system, the operator is able to save money by accessing data in real time and by removing the manual process of collecting data from each individual switch.

Ravi Ravishankar is director, Advanced Technology Planning, at Tekelec. His focus is on defining signaling solutions and products for the next-generation packet telephony and 3G wireless networks. Tekelec is a leading developer of telecommunications signaling infrastructure, softswitches, testing and diagnostic solutions, and service applications. Please visit their Web site at www.tekelec.com.

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