Do You Have the Bandwidth to Manage Your Broadband Network? Part 2

The second installment of our two-part blog on network management, we look at why small broadband service providers— such as tier 2/3 telecommunications providers, electric co-ops, and public power utilities—might choose to outsource their network operations center (NOC) rather than setting up and operating their own.

A Little NOC Refresher

In case you missed Part 1, the NOC is the network’s command center. It houses the personnel, equipment and processes necessary to monitor and manage network operations and respond to issues in the field as they occur. The NOC is also responsible for maintaining and implementing a disaster recovery protocol in case of a catastrophic network failure. For this same reason, each network is typically supported by two NOC facilities to ensure full redundancy.

Some of the critical functions of the NOC include:  

  • Network monitoring and incident response
  • Monitoring and managing SLAs to ensure compliance with performance and quality standards
  • Managing hardware and software version updates
  • Maintaining uninterrupted power supply, redundant fiber paths, and sufficient network capacity
  • Securing the network with firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, threat analysis, and antivirus filtering

As discussed in Part 1, creating, staffing and equipping a full-service NOC capable of 24×7×365 monitoring and response can quickly become cost-prohibitive for smaller broadband service providers. The alternative is a contract with a third-party provider for outsourced NOC services.

Outsourcing NOC Services to a Managed Services Partner

Outsourcing a NOC typically involves the managed services partner’s redundant centralized remote facilities connecting to your network via highly secure, redundant high-speed connections. Each of the partner’s NOC facilities is equipped with the personnel, equipment and processes needed to provide complete network monitoring, incident/fault response, field service help, and disaster recovery procedures.

Aside from the obvious upside of not having to build and run your own redundant NOC, a third-party arrangement offers other attractive benefits:

  • Economies of scale: A provider with the resources and capacity to deliver managed NOC services to multiple customers can enable cost savings and performance improvements that you can’t achieve operating on your own. 
  • Staff utilization: A third-party arrangement enables you to allocate your in-house staff where they are most needed. 
  • Customization and control: Third-party managed service providers generally have extensive technical expertise and resources, giving them greater ability to customize solution designs and configurations precisely for your network.
  • Reduced risk: The certified NOC engineers employed by a managed services provider have breadth of experience and knowledge that ultimately reduces your business risks.

Understanding Your Managed NOC Service Options

Providers of managed network operations offer an array of choices that let you get the biggest bang for your buck. It’s worthwhile to allow yourself time for comparison shopping and negotiation.

At one end of the spectrum is a full-service contract that offers 24×7×365 monitoring and response, with full NOC facility redundancy. If you’re thin on qualified personnel, this may be the right option that more than justifies the price tag. Even if your NOC services provider is “handling everything,” you’ll typically retain control over many areas, such as reporting requirements, thresholds for elevating service tickets, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum, highly customizable NOC management plans allow you to control pricing by picking and choosing the capabilities you need. Most plans provide a basic set of services and capabilities that you can supplement with value-added or customizable service selections. Your service provider might, for example, enable you to build a NOC management plan around back-office functions, such as performance and alarm monitoring, after-hours support, and disaster recovery. 

Typical add-on managed NOC services include:

  • Spare parts management: Onsite replacement of hardware within four hours
  • Back-office systems: Monitoring, ticketing and management dashboards
  • Network operations: Fault management, performance optimization, and cybersecurity
  • Smart hands: Experienced technicians deployed onsite for installation, testing and replacement

Tips for Creating an Outsourced Program that Works

Regardless of the range of choices available, the most important choice is a program and provider that works best for you. Making the right choice of provider and plan begins with having a clear understanding of what your needs are. With that in mind, here are a few tips for selecting the right provider and service.

  • Define your short-term and long-term goals. Examples might be managing for the best combination of co-op growth, for technology migration or for financial stability.
  • Map your existing skill sets, operational processes, and resources against the complete list of needed roles and responsibilities to identify gaps.
  • Target and prioritize areas to be outsourced.
  • Select the provider and level of partnership that most closely aligns with your needs and goals.
  • Expect a high level of ongoing involvement and communication from candidate providers and ensure they fully understand your needs and challenges.

By using a fully vetted NOC provider, along with a strategically designed and customized service plan, smaller broadband service providers can manage their next-generation networks for growth and revenue without breaking the bank.

Fujitsu Managed Network Services offers quality and reliability, plus the peace of mind that comes with dependable protection. We work with you and within your budget to align our end-to-end capabilities with your specific needs. For more information on our NOC management services, visit the Network Services section on the Fujitsu website.

OSS and Orchestration Challenges in a 5G World

The 5G network is virtualized through a complex interlinking of individual components running as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), and network slicing. While VNFs have been around for a while, network slicing presents itself as the next step in SDN technology—amounting to full virtualization of the network from radio to core. The separation of the network into VNFs and Network Slicing provides a huge leap forward in network flexibility, but the price of this advancement is that it will make orchestration and management much more complex.

My earlier blog, “A Domain Approach Could Simplify 5G Network Management,” examined the potential benefits of domain-based management as a remedy for the inherent complexity of 5G networks. In this article, I’m looking at the real-world OSS and orchestration challenges we’re encountering as we work with customers towards full 5G roll-out, including the timelines and best practices to prepare the 5G operations toolset.

Breaking Down the Challenges

5G OSS and orchestration present challenges in three primary areas: 

  • Mobile network: Virtualization of the Radio Access Network, the new 5G core, transport architectures built for slicing, and large-scale virtualized infrastructure
  • Software platforms: SDN/NFV management for increasingly prevalent open source in the OSS, as well as for Linux Foundation networking and edge initiatives
  • 5G services: A new, distributed approach to enable management for ultra-reliable, low-latency, and massive machine communication services

The Timing

According to Heavy Reading’s March 2019 survey of 5G operators, almost 80% of them expect to deploy 5G technology in the next two years. At least half expect to start transport upgrades for 5G by the end of 2019. Finally, by 2022, these operators expect to see the arrival of massive machine type communications and network slicing. 

The evolution of OSS and orchestration should focus first on new radio and transport, followed by vRAN, and then on new services and slicing.

Key Functional Areas

Key functional areas within a domain-based management approach include:

  • vRAN and radio management and control
  • Transport network management and control
  • Virtualized infrastructure orchestration and management
  • Core network management
  • End-to-end: inventory, service orchestration, policy management and assurance
  • Network slice management
  • Design, planning and testing

These areas align with the expected rollout of 5G, as shown in the table below:

Enabling Technologies

Enabling technologies we expect to see include the following: which align with the notional rollout of 5G:

  • Linux Foundation networking and edge open source (i.e. ONAP, ODL, Akraino):
  • AI and machine learning
  • O-RAN – Radio intelligence controller and open APIs
  • Virtualized infrastructure management and orchestration: open-source MANO, OpenStack, Kubernetes, Akraino
  • Standards from 5GPP, ETSI and others.

The Linux Foundation provides a useful summary of these inputs in their Open Source Networking Landscape diagram, as reproduced below (Source: Heather Kirksey, VP Linux Foundation):

What’s Next?

The current state of open-source networking technology means that operators must move carefully, since it is not clear which projects will gain stable traction in the market. There’s no guarantee what direction the market will take, and competing projects risk wasting valuable resources. A phased approach is necessary, with transport and requirements specific to 5G NR taking precedence.

AI and machine learning have become critical due to the scale and real-time nature of 5G. Defining AI use cases and using machine learning to tune AI solutions for 5G will be essential, and the 5G core needs to be managed as part of the end-to-end solution, which also includes coordination of network slicing across all parts of the network.

When it comes to the edge of the network, Multi-Access Edge Computing and IoT will bring new requirements for management:

  • Edge management provides low latency 
  • Coordination between IT resources at the edge, and the vRAN and transport networks ensure real-time demands can be met.
  • IoT brings a high volume of devices to the network that require new approaches to bring high volume, energy efficient management.

Conclusion

Each phase of mobile networking across initial roll-outs of 2G, 3G and 4G, introduced OSS and orchestration to manage that specific network’s infrastructure and services. In the past, these deployments often took place after the fact, and were typically built independently for each part of the network. This led to the creation of OSS silos for each part of the network, with little correlation between them. This process won’t work for the 5G network.

5G needs a new way of thinking about end-to-end management. Openness, virtualized infrastructure, real-time services, and the volume of devices and cell sites all play a role. A careful, planned, and timely rollout out is needed for OSS and orchestration. Only then can operators deliver a successful 5G experience.

Top Four Takeaways About 5G Transport You Need to Know

With the promise of massively increased speed and capacity, there is a lot riding on the success of next-generation 5G technology. To be more accurate, one might say there is a lot riding on the 5G transport network specifically, given the critical role that transport will play in enabling high-bandwidth, ultra-reliable and ultra-low latency applications for 5G.

As communication service providers (CSPs) urgently plan their commercial 5G deployments, the most important first step is mapping out the backhaul, fronthaul and midhaul transport architectures to ensure the best possible customer experience. In order to gain valuable insight into the current and future state of 5G transport, Fujitsu partnered with analyst firm Heavy Reading to conduct an in-depth survey of CSPs from around the world. Here are just a few noteworthy findings from this comprehensive 5G research.

5G is open for business —Survey results clearly indicate interest in moving toward open interoperability with 5G. A large majority of respondents reported that RAN interoperability between radio unit (RU) and baseband unit (BBU) equipment was at least “very important” to them, with a sizeable number citing RAN interoperability as a “critical” requirement.

Appetite for bandwidth —According to the survey, the need for more capacity is the primary driver behind the desire to upgrade midhaul and backhaul networks. In fact, nearly 30% more respondents cited capacity versus those that selected latency, the second highest response.

A central theme —Although some CSPs adopted centralized RAN (C-RAN) with advanced 4G, for most operators this approach means transitioning to a completely new architecture for 5G. Despite the challenge that represents, survey results show growing interest in RAN centralization across a number of regions.

When do we want it — To meet expectations for commercial 5G services, CSPs will first need to have a robust transport network in place. When asked in what timeframe they will begin launching 5G, more than 50% of respondents said they expect to launch initial mass-market services by 2020. To learn more about the state of 5G transport, click here to download a complimentary copy of the 2019 Heavy Reading Survey: “Operator Strategies for 5G Transport.”

How to Make Your Utility Smarter … And What You Stand to Gain

With the advent of 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud technologies, smart infrastructure enabled by high-speed connectivity is now closer than ever to being truly ubiquitous. These trends are driving a variety of advancements across a wide range of industries — from cost-efficiency and better customer service, to enhanced safety and security. The utility industry, in particular, is in a prime position to put smart infrastructure technologies to good use.

Many of today’s utilities — whether they are public power, investor-owned, or rural electric cooperatives — are struggling with how to evolve their business model in response to several imperatives:

  • De-carbonization – Reducing current and future carbon footprints by leveraging renewable energy resources
  • De-centralization – Expanding energy solutions to include wind, solar, hydro, micro-grids and other distributed energy resources
  • Digital transformation – Increased data harvesting to inform key decision-making

By embracing smart technology, utilities stand to benefit from the potential positive impacts of trusted data on their business operations, including service offerings that were not previously possible. These benefits offer utilities opportunities to preserve capital, increase revenue, build stronger customer engagement, and strengthen future viability to meet new or unforeseen challenges head-on.

Yet for some utilities, the path forward remains uncertain. What are the requirements for building out smart infrastructure, and what is the best route forward?

Building Blocks of a Smarter Future

Alongside the recent evolution of power transmission technologies, many utilities have modernized their communications infrastructure, for example by deploying advanced 100G networks to replace the old standard of 40 Mbps transmission. Investments of this type have provided greater network speed and capacity, creating a bedrock on which power providers can deploy the essential building blocks of a smart utility.

In order to benefit from this bedrock communications infrastructure, a utility needs trustworthy and actionable operating data.  Trusted data is harvested, analyzed and contextualized only by putting in place all (five) smart infrastructure blocks, of which high-speed connectivity is one. Being a smart utility therefore is more than having a fast network, it is about having smart infrastructure. The essential infrastructure blocks of the smart utility include:

  • Sensing Block – Gathers data from IoT devices and sensors, such as cameras, drones, and microphones. Key metrics gathered using sensors might include the speed and direction of turbine blade rotation, system voltage or current, outage detection, suspicious persons, weather conditions, tower pitch, or network connectivity status.
  • Network Infrastructure Block – Fiber and wireless network infrastructure transmits data between IoT devices, cameras, microphones, data management systems and cloud services. Traditional interconnected networks include SCADA, AMI, fiber, core, FTTx, microwave and 4G/ LTE mobile networks. Newer technology options include 5G and Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies.
  • Data Infrastructure Block – Data from the sensing layer is aggregated, stored and processed in the data infrastructure block, making it available for use. Data management consumes significant compute power both in the cloud and on premises, and requires high-availability databases, often referred to as data lakes, that are both secure and scalable.
  • Cloud Services Block – The services block combines cybersecurity, managed network services, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data analytics to ensure data integrity; protect devices; secure and optimize the network; and extract insights. The cybersecurity layer is vital for compliance with NERC-CIP requirements designed to protect critical infrastructure, customer data, and community safety, especially in light of increased cyber and physical attacks aimed at utilities.
  • Smart Applications Block – Smart applications are the user interfaces through which utility executives and employees consume actionable insights, such as real-time dashboards for energy consumption, flow control, leakage detection, and load monitoring.

By deploying these essential building blocks, utilities can infuse their operations with real-time trusteddata. Trusted data can help them increase productivity; improve reliability and efficiency; streamline regulatory compliance; reduce costs and risks; deliver new services; and enhance the quality of customer experience. Consider, for example, how smart technologies could be used to leverage thermal imaging data and the power of AI to identify overheated equipment, or spot emerging fire threats at remote utility substations.

Creating a Smarter Future

At Fujitsu, we’ve seen firsthand how smart infrastructure technologies can make a substantial difference to a utility company’s business and operations models — and their bottom line. As a full-service integration company, we recognize every utility’s unique situation and we help them develop a sensible business plan to deploy the building blocks of a smart utility, making the digital transformation journey together.

To learn more about how to build a smarter utility with the right infrastructure in place to inform better, faster decision-making, contact us to discuss your business case.

Discovery and Inventory Management in the Age of Network Automation

How does your operations team find out conclusively what devices are in the network? If you ask them for information about the network’s operational and configuration status, what answers might they give you? Does your team begin to provision services, only to find that the devices are already configured for a different service?

For most service providers, keeping tabs on what’s in the network is getting complicated, if not impossible. Inventory data is typically maintained manually, stored in spreadsheets or scattered among multiple inventory systems. As such, it’s often inaccurate, out of date and even useless.

Not knowing for sure what network devices you have, how they’re connected, where they’re located, what their status is, or what resources are available for new services can cause serious problems. The idea of running a business where the underlying assets used to drive revenue are unknown should be unthinkable. Unfortunately, many providers find themselves in exactly this situation, struggling to keep track of a misconfigured network with stranded assets.

Why? The answers are far from simple. Most inventory solutions require manual lookup in multiple databases, or a laborious process of discovery through intermediary network management systems. The challenge with these methods is that they’re not real time and they rely on complicated connection methods for discovering a network. There is a great deal of room for error, and the information needed to make decisions is never accurate. What’s missing is a real time unified network view for inventory management.

With network automation, control and advanced analytics in the ascendant, the data integrity and real-time status of network inventory are paramount. Many providers start deploying new network automation, analytics, and operations systems, only to realize that, without accurate network information, these new tools are unable to deliver the promised value. A solid foundation of real time network information is vital to increase visibility for operations, support network analytics, boost service productivity, and reduce costs.

The key principles that apply to network discovery and inventory management are as follows:

  1. Deploy centralized network discovery engine that connects directly to devices and controllers and is vendor-agnostic. The discovery function must support a set of protocols that connect to the network and are capable of adapting quickly to new devices and changes in existing devices.
  2. Implement real-time network discovery so that network data remains up to date in order to provide valid support for decisions about network services as well as inputs for network analytics. This information must be accurate at all times, to improve confidence in decision making.
  3. Choose a system that enables discovery of more than the physical resources (devices, cards and ports). You must remain aware of the logical resources as well, since these are the building blocks for the services the network delivers. Additionally, ensure that you can discover and audit resources and services in real time, and keep track of valuable components needed to provide revenue-generating services.
  4. Provide an open interface for processes and applications to query network information on which they depend in real time.

Achieving 100% real time network data accuracy is vital for a service provider’s business and network operations. Proper network discovery and inventory data integrity reduces the time it takes to deploy infrastructure; reduces the cost of operations by eliminating errors and network churn; and provides real-time information about the network. There’s no more worry over inaccurate data or nasty surprises over what the network looks like. A service provider can now ask questions about network utilization, new services, and provision services quickly without the risks presented by inaccurate data. In sum, but deploying a true real time discovery and inventory management solution, you can now leverage network assets to deliver more revenue with lower operating costs.

Do You Have the Bandwidth to Manage Your Broadband Network? Part 1

Technology is fast-moving and ever-evolving. Whether you are a current broadband provider or thinking of becoming one, you need to consider how to efficiently and effectively manage technology. If you have a smaller network—such as a rural electric cooperative, telecom cooperative, or public power utility—transitioning to a new service platform is challenging enough. Managing delivery of those new services to ensure value for your customers while maintaining profitability…that’s a whole other issue. It requires the personnel, facilities and systems to maintain five-nines availability, as well as the resources to implement a solid disaster recovery plan, should the need arise.

When it comes to managing your broadband network, you’ve got a couple of choices. You can add more resources to your existing network operations center (NOC), or you can outsource the expertise and resources you need. In this two-part blog, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of each, starting with identifying and integrating broadband service support into your in-house NOC.

The resources you’ll need can be divided into three categories: facility, systems and staff.

Facility Planning

These days, most networks—including smaller rural ones—either maintain their own NOC facility or lease from a NOC facility provider. In either case, you can’t assume your facility has the broadband management resources and personnel required. More specifically, it should be large enough to add redundant power and cooling systems, network infrastructure, backup phone systems and the staff needed to provide 24/7 monitoring.

One important thing when it comes to the NOC facility is the increasing need for redundancy, not just in systems but in facilities. Depending on your KPIs, two complete facilities may be required. From a cost perspective, expect to spend over $1M plus annual maintenance and other operating costs for two facilities with redundant systems capable of providing 24/7/365 coverage and disaster recovery.

System Requirements

Inside the NOC, there are two general types of systems needed to support your broadband network. First are the monitoring and support systems that are primary to the success of any network. These include an ultra-reliable network connection that allows you to monitor and respond to issues quickly, as well as diagnostic systems and dashboards for troubleshooting throughput, device configuration, and network topology issues. You’ll also need performance monitoring and alert systems more specific to broadband services. These provide centralized and actionable insights for troubleshooting throughput, availability, capacity loading, hardware thresholds, service interruptions, and other key metrics.

The second type of system includes anything pertaining to the operation and support of the NOC itself. This may include power monitoring, automated infrastructure management (AIM) systems, or—for larger facilities—data center infrastructure management (DCIM) solutions that provide a holistic view of both the IT and facility stacks. For any system, you’ll need to factor in the annual cost of maintenance, technology upgrades, and expansion.   

Staffing Needs

A typical NOC will require a minimum of eight IT techs for 24-hour support. It’s important that your staff is well trained on IP, Ethernet and fiber networks in order to monitor your new broadband network and respond to issues. That may sound like overkill, but there is real danger if you are understaffed. First, you run the risk of quick burnout and high employee turnover, which would seriously impact staffing costs. More importantly, your credibility as a broadband provider is at risk if your service is not reliable. When you’re making your staffing decision, think in terms of hiring the most qualified people to keep your network operating and your service level high, while keeping customer churn low and maintaining the ability to acquire new customers.

Additionally, you’ll need field staff to respond to issues requiring diagnosing and/or replacing hardware failures, as well as any software issues that prevent remote connectivity to devices. Average annual cost for a mid-level NOC technician is approximately $50,000. For an eight-person staff, salaries and training will run around $400,000, plus the cost of a three- or four-person field team.

Pros and Cons

While it can be complex and costly, integrating broadband into your existing NOC provides certain advantages. For starters, leveraging existing facilities and in-house capabilities can help you reduce time to market and begin monetizing your broadband business quicker. At the same time, using your existing NOC offers the opportunity to cross-train existing staff on broadband, making them more valuable to the organization. If your existing NOC has the capacity and systems required, you may not have to build or source a new facility to support your broadband network. Owning your own NOC and integrating your broadband network within it gives you full control over how the operation is set up and managed. Lastly, combining the management of multiple networks—such as an electric grid and broadband—improves economies of scale.

On the other side of the ledger are the challenges that this approach creates, and cost is one of the biggest. The do-it-yourself model requires a significant investment in facility improvements in order to support your broadband network from day one. Upfront costs, therefore, are a concern. The need to continually monitor and upgrade the technology deployed in the NOC also creates added opex costs. It is important to remember that if you elect to go this route, you are responsible for virtually all aspects: employee training systems management, testing protocols, consumables management. It’s not that it can’t be done—but you need to carefully consider if you’re ready to take it on. In part 2, we’ll flip the equation and discuss outsourcing options for all or part of your broadband network operations. In the meantime, I invite you to check out Fujitsu’s portfolio of managed network services.

Don’t Wait for 5G to Make Network Slicing Pay Off

5G is just around the corner… or so the story goes. Yes, network service providers worldwide are busy preparing to deploy 5G, if they haven’t already started. But we have to face facts — 5G technology is still evolving, and 5G networks serving mass market mobile devices won’t be available for some time. So, while it’s still important to gain early competitive advantage in the race to 5G, achieving the full potential of next-generation networks will be a marathon, not a sprint.

However, you don’t have to wait for 5G to fully mature before you can take advantage of a key aspect of 5G networks. As you drive toward the goal of delivering 5G services, you can serve a variety of different subscriber needs now with network slicing.

Carving Up Capacity

In the traditional network, bandwidth was fairly monolithic. Allocating capacity for certain subscribers typically required implementation of a VPN or VLAN, reserving bandwidth in a static way that was less than efficient. With the promise of 5G, the ultimate goal will be to create scalable, end-to-end network slices that will be applied dynamically through automation.

But network slicing is not just for 5G. You can implement network slicing in today’s networks to deliver differentiated services to business and consumer customers now.

Network slicing enables the creation of multi-application networks that provide service differentiation with a certain bandwidth profile to meet specific customer needs. For example, you can define a set of requirements, such as low latency or high availability, to serve various categories of services — from automation and IoT, to augmented and virtual reality. This not only provides a more efficient way to manage applications and resources for service assurance, it also offers opportunities to drive more subscriber revenue.

Start Slicing Now

To determine how to get started, consider the different bandwidth profiles and applications that will benefit from network slicing, and develop a broader policy around how you can separate out the network. Virtualized services can be defined and separated by allocating resources in virtual network functions (VNFs) to assure the performance of each slice.

Getting a head start on network slicing now means you don’t have to wait for 5G to offer new value-added services. And although 5G standards are still evolving, the ONAP Project recently released a new 5G blueprint, including support for network slicing. This means you can start working toward implementation of this technology in an open, disaggregated manner that will dovetail with future 5G networks.

Monetize the Slice

5G networks are being rolled out this year, but we’re going to be waiting a while for full mobile capability. Network slicing provides a clear opportunity to deliver profitable new services and improved quality of service (QoS) now. Potential business use cases include deployment of virtual customer premise equipment (CPE) technology at the edge of your network to better serve both consumer and enterprise customers. Network slicing can also be employed to make critical communications services more reliable for public safety agencies and municipal governments. These are just a few examples of how you can increase profits through network slicing. To learn more, register for the webinar “Approaches to Solving Network Slicing Before 5G” with IHSMarkit and Fujitsu: Register Here

ONAP: Riding the open-source wave towards network automation

As digitization becomes increasingly important, communication service providers (CSPs) are constantly looking for innovative solutions driving more automated control into their networks. In the quest towards enabling faster service delivery and reducing operational expenditures, CSPs are faced with multiple challenges along the way that need to be addressed in order to achieve their business goals. Today’s operational support systems and networking infrastructure need to be refreshed in order to keep up with the scale and rising bandwidth demands, further accelerating the need for automation driven by SDN and NFV technologies.

In addressing some of these challenges, the telecom industry has started to embrace open-source solutions, bringing about more collaboration and harmonization. The ONAP (Open Network Automation Platform) project hosted by the Linux Foundation is a classic example of this. Over the last year we have witnessed an increased momentum among CSPs and vendors alike embracing ONAP as a unified orchestration and automation framework, with several of them making active contributions towards enhancing the project. At its core, ONAP provides a comprehensive platform for real-time, policy-driven orchestration and automation of physical and virtual network functions that will enable software, network, IT and cloud providers and developers to rapidly automate new services and support complete lifecycle management.

ONAP provides a common modular reference framework that defines key functional blocks and standard interfaces, which form a basis for service definition, resource onboarding, activation and control, and data analytics across a broad range of use cases. Common information models, external API support and generic management engines decouple the specific services and technologies, providing users with the flexibility to develop additional capabilities enabling new blueprints. With CSPs’ networks continuously evolving, the increased complexity of managing and implementing service offerings across multi-domain, multi-layer, multi-vendor environments is furthering the need for a unified approach to service orchestration and network management across legacy and modern infrastructures.

Although there is a high level of industry consensus on the architectural principles and interface definitions guiding the development of ONAP, we have a long road ahead towards secure and stable deployment in live networks. There are multiple options network operators are considering in integrating ONAP into their existing OSS environments. As with many open-source projects, we believe there will be markets for various distribution models providing network operators with flexibility on how they choose to consume ONAP and associated offerings, including: 

  • Integrated solutions with carrier-grade versions of individual ONAP modules  
  • Service models, applications and micro-services built to run in ONAP environments
  • Compliant networking infrastructure (physical/virtual), including PNFs, VNFs, domain controllers, etc. that plug into ONAP

There are multiple complexities involved in introducing ONAP into an existing OSS playground and the ability to successfully deploy and automate service delivery across the many network domains. Managing this incremental shift towards adopting ONAP modules / components, and having them co-exist with existing management systems, will be critical to enabling a smooth transition. The rise of 5G further necessitates the need for a scalable architectural platform to onboard and activate new services enabling a wider range of business opportunities for network operators, and to this extent ONAP seems like an attractive option. Having fully embraced open-source as a key catalyst to network automation, Fujitsu is actively engaging in the ONAP ecosystem. We are contributing to the development and extension of the ONAP framework towards addressing new use cases in partnership with network operators, with the goal of further driving community collaboration. As we continue to ride the open-source wave, we look forward to seeing the industry make this important digital transformation together.

MicroApplications – An Introduction to Solving Problems with Software in Small Packages

Why does a software solution have to be so difficult?  The answer is, it doesn’t.

MicroApplications (MicroApps) are small software applications frequently used for mobility platforms, like mobile phone apps.  When we use the term MicroApplications at Fujitsu we have a broader definition. 

A MicroApplication is a small software application that addresses a specific customer problem or use case. MicroApps are increasingly popular because they can be developed and deployed quickly and cost-effectively. 

Let’s break that down a bit more.

  1. Small – It’s in the name – Micro. The term small is in comparison to larger monolithic software applications used in the telecommunications industry, such as Element Management Systems (EMS) or Network Assurance platforms. These types of software platforms are designed to address many use cases and therefore are bigger — both in the amount of code required, as well as the time to develop and test them prior to rolling into production.
  • Specific – MicroApps are designed to address a specific customer need, typically an operational need, such as backing up a network element database, or extracting performance data from a router. 

MicroApps, however, are not necessarily simple to develop or implement. They can be small and focused, yet still address hard problems that have multiple degrees of complexity. An example of this would be around the IS-IS based routing protocol Open Systems Interconnect (OSI) used in traditional SONET/SDN network equipment. 

Like many routing protocols, a flat network is a problem from a routing table perspective. Fujitsu developed a MicroApp that helped discover, analyze, and subdivide these OSI networks into smaller routing instances to prevent oversubscription, and therefore communication loss. 

  • Faster & Cost-Effective – The third element of a MicroApp is how quickly its benefits can be achieved. Today more than ever, network service providers are looking for a faster return on investment (ROI) when considering a software solution to problems. One year or less is now considered a must but can be a challenge for larger software platforms. 

Because they are smaller and focused on a single use case, MicroApps can better meet this ROI timeline by simply delivering the solution faster. As an example of this, Fujitsu developed a fully functional, multi-vendor database back-up MicroApp for one of our customers in less than 90 days. This project was completed through a one-time purchase, the benefit of which could be realized in the same fiscal year. An equivalent network management system would have cost millions of dollars and carried hefty annual support contracts for years to come.

Fujitsu Network Communications has a long history in the telecommunications industry, both for our optical acumen but also as part of our larger heritage as one of the world’s leading ICT companies. We are committed to helping our customers on many levels of software development, and recognize the importance of MicroApps in the evolving world of telecommunications and software automation. To learn more, view the introductory video here:

 

Network Slicing Made Simple

To deliver on the promise of 5G, this next-generation technology will enable multiple new service streams virtualized through a common infrastructure. With all the different use cases for 5G, these services will have diverse performance requirements, which adds to the challenges of delivering them in an efficient way. To overcome these challenges, tomorrow’s networks will rely on network slicing.

The 5G radio consists of three distinct elements as defined by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP): radio unit (RU), distribution unit (DU) and central unit (CU). In the 5G New Radio (5G NR), multiple RUs hand off data to the DU. Network slicing begins within the DU by identifying specific services and allocating virtualized, isolated resources. The transport network interoperates with the DU and CU for dynamic service delivery and resource allocation, while the network operation uses multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) segment routing for dynamic establishment of resources. 

There is, however, a simpler and more cost-effective way of engineering and maintaining the MPLS segment routing elements. This involves physically separating the control and user planes using disaggregation, and operating the control plane in the cloud. Contrasting the cloud control plane to a traditional router will illustrate the benefits of this approach. 

A traditional router platform consists of an integrated control and user plane, in the form of a chassis and plug-in cards. These chassis come in multiple sizes based on performance and capacity supported. Each chassis dimension has integrated control and user plane regardless of the chassis size. Therefore, scaling is limited to that fixed dimension, meaning they always scale up to a limit. This means that — from Day One — the platform will typically only run at 20 to 30 percent capacity, but will still have to reserve the full footprint, power and thermal allocation of full loading. This is a very inefficient use of CAPEX. Furthermore, each of the deployment sites runs the risk of under- or over-engineering the capacity. Too small a dimension with an under-capacity site results in loss of revenue through unfulfilled demands, while an over-engineered site is an inefficient use of capital.

Control Capacity in the Cloud

Alternatively, the disaggregated approach consists of a programmable, purpose-built blade forming the MPLS-segment routing common infrastructure, and a decoupled virtual control plane in the cloud. When a new service is required, a virtual routing instance is generated in the control plane and provisioned throughout the virtual network, including resilient alternate pathways, end-to-end, based on the service level agreement (SLA).

Once calculated for the virtual network, the programming is pushed down into the common infrastructure. These cloud micro-services offer real protocol isolation per virtual router instance, where each protocol is running in its own container and brought together as one virtual router application instance. Multiple virtual router instances with full isolation can share the same network element hardware, offering a very CAPEX-efficient scaling operation. We refer to this as a scale-out approach via linear resource scaling, resulting in better infrastructure utilization versus traditional routers. 

Applying the cloud control plane approach to network slicing based on upcoming 5G services offers simplified operations and capacity scaling using virtualization to dynamically allocate and provision services to customers. As services are provisioned, the virtual routing instances are provisioned end-to-end for each service and customer on a global basis, then pushed down to the programmable network elements running the user plane.

This simplified operation offers full resource guarantees with reduced operational complexity, resulting in faster time to market/revenue return, while lowering the cost per bit using a capacity efficient virtualized network. This allows for the construction of one common infrastructure where individual network elements are minimized and right sized for capacity with multiple virtual networks, enabling many diverse service use cases to fully realize the potential of 5G.