Take a cue from the cloud to automate Telco.



“So, how automated is the telco industry today?” I asked Ian Hood, Global Chief Architect for our service provider partners, with whom I had engaged recently in a stimulating exchange of ideas on open source concepts being applied to this industry.

“Somewhere between the swivel chair and the fax machine with a smattering of worksheets along the way,” was his witty response. Clearly, there is immense scope for automation to be introduced in this sector. But automation must be driven by sound business reasons and built on a foundation of robust, configurable infrastructure. The telco industry is today where enterprise IT was years ago—managing data center operations with very, very low operator-to-server ratios. The forces of cloud, big data and mobility have driven the need for systemic virtualization and automation in this domain, resulting in a significantly higher operator-to-server ratio. Is the telco industry poised to take a cue from the cloud for automation? Absolutely! We explain why.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that OpenConfig has the goal of moving networks toward a more dynamic, programmable infrastructure by adopting software-defined networking (SDN) principles such as declarative configuration and model-driven management and operations. There is a clear move by this group towards vendor-neutral data models for configuration and management that will be supported natively on networking hardware and software platforms.

“A big step forward in the right direction serving as a key foundation for automation!” Ian tells me. “Over the recent years, network service orchestration has gained considerable attention from communication service providers all around the world as a means to automate the tedious and error-prone tasks required to configure network devices.” Orchestrated Assurance – as referenced in recent Cisco blogs about orchestrators having the ability to automate the deployment and configuration of an accompanying service assurance solution, tailored to the specific services being delivered – is a key opportunity for automation.

“Telco services have to be delivered carrier grade at cloud scale with reliability, availability and serviceability,” Ian points out, adding that this is a key success factor for automation.

So, what are some of the candidates for effective automation once we have a key foundation and keeping the key success factors in mind?  Here are a few:

  1. Automate service provisioning using standardized models. Standardized models of the service intent help to automate service provisioning for remotely configuring secure devices installed at different locations connected with each other.
  2. Generate self-configured customer-specific services. The customer specifies the service requirements on a self-service portal, which are used to automatically generate self-configured services tailored to the customer needs.
  3. Automate capacity management. Monitor the uptime and availability of devices and services while ensuring the consumption patterns align with what the customer said they will pay for. Are the customers using what they paid for? Provision additional resources to increase the network, storage, and compute capacities.
  4. Apply predictive analytics to self-configuring networks. Apply analytics to identify and project the next potential outage while automating preventive measures.

All that said, will the telco industry ever get to being 100 percent automated? “Not any time soon,” says Ian.

There are several activities during the initial phase where the infrastructure is being built that can never be automated – including streets being physically dug up, and the build out of fiber and radio transmission facilities – which is why automation must happen where it makes the most business sense and where it can deliver the maximum return.

What other significant business-driven opportunities do you all think there are for automation? And are there other key success factors for automation in the telco industry? Please let us know in the comments section below.

And by the way, perhaps the telco industry should take a cue from the cloud to go open source as well! Here are a few tips on how to do just that.

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