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NGN Magazine Magazine logo
July 2010 | Volume 2/Number 4
Feature Story

Service Assurance and Bandwidth Management

Feeding the Real-Time, End-to-End Needs of Next-Gen Wireless Environments


By Paula Bernier (News - Alert)

Service assurance and bandwidth management are wonderful concepts that every network operator seems to want to achieve. However, disjointed toolsets make it tough for service providers to get an end-to-end handle on network performance and end user experiences. But as new data traffic floods wireless networks and carriers move to offer higher-value services, there's a stronger drive by service providers to seek out and employ more holistic management solutions.

Virtually every equipment supplier provides a management console for its own products. And, as Jeff Parker, co-founder and president of Monolith Software, a 12-year-old company in the monitoring management space, notes, there was a lot of hubbub in the late 1990s when Micromuse (News - Alert) with its Netcool product introduced the manager of managers concept. The idea was to collapse information for those various systems into a single console. By now, all the service providers have built a manager of managers for faults and events, says Parker; but no one proactively monitors the links they're providing, although service providers are being pushed to offer real-time views of traffic.

That means that although many service providers offer SLAs today, if there's a dispute over those SLAs, providers typically give customers some sort of a make-good rather than providing the data that shows the actual performance on the network and on customer applications, says Parker.

As a result, every service provider is trying to build customer intimacy through transparency, which involves giving customers a view of their own portion of the network and its performance, he continues. But that means they need to be able to get to physical and virtual interfaces, which is a significant challenge, explains Parker. There are event-level solutions that can offer data on bandwidth utilization, for example, he says; but bandwidth is a metric, so service providers need solutions that turn those metrics into events to drive SLA trees that can show how the service provider is meeting the customer's SLA objectives.

"Today, service providers and enterprise organizations are focusing more on the services the IT infrastructure provides," says Parker of Monolith, which recently released Version 3.5 of its solution. "Being able to provide a unified technology view of all of the components and how they interact is key to delivering always-on services."

Steve Shalita, vice president of marketing at NetScout (News - Alert), seconds that emotion.

As operators move to IP-based, next-generation environments, he says, they face the challenges of dealing with diverse and premium services and applications. And they need to understand how the network is operating and how to optimize it to offer the requisite user experience, he says.

Of course, that's always been a goal of service providers. However, with the enormous growth of traffic on the network, and introduction of a massive and varied range of new applications, the challenges of managing both infrastructure and user experiences in this next-generation environment are bigger than ever, he says. NetScout addresses that with its xDR technology, which enables service providers to handle billions and billions of transactions, and to have a view into their networks so they can extract information to help them make the most informed network and business decisions, says Shalita.




While NetScout hasn't made public its service provider customers of this solution, Shalita says that a large North American carrier known for its support of advanced 3G smartphones is using NetScout to understand application and service performance issues relating both to its own network as well as to the center that is providing applications to its users.

He adds that one of the biggest challenges mobile service providers now face has to do with DNS and RADIUS authentication. In a mobile environment, he explains, handsets tap into the mobile towers constantly, and with every transaction there's a need to re-authenticate. So if a DNS server is flooded, he says, that impacts the ability to complete an application transaction. That means it's important to monitor what's happening with DNS, says Shalita, noting that AT&T was recently facing issues with its DNS servers being flooded by attacks.

Greg Gum, vice president of marketing and business development at ANDA Networks (News - Alert), which sells the EtherEdge 4300 for wireless backhaul, says with the influx of video, streaming media and loads of data, managing congestion at heavily-trafficked cell sites is rising in importance.

ANDA's EtherProbe technology allows the company's customers to do real-time performance management with the 4300. That lets wireless networks do traffic shaping and management at the cell site in real time, and without slowing the flow of packets, says Gum. He adds that EtherProbe also now features EtherStream, which looks at flows on a subscriber by subscriber basis to allow for dynamic load balancing, policing and shaping of individual subscriber's traffic in real time.

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