Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blueprint: Service Assurance as a Strategic Enabler of Network Virtualization

by Anand Gonuguntla, co-founder & CEO of Centina Systems

Network virtualization techniques, such as SDN and NFV, are revolutionizing the telecom business. But the speed and dynamism of these virtual paradigms represent a severe challenge to current service assurance systems.

Here’s the problem: operators are saddled with service assurance systems that are costly to maintain, slow to upgrade, and poor at isolating network problems that affect customers. So unless operators deploy a more efficient and responsive service assurance platform, many of the key benefits of SDN/NFV cannot be achieved.

In this article, I’m going to discuss why service assurance is a strategic enabler for virtual networks. I’ll first explain how network virtualization changes network and business models. Then I’ll walk through the difficulties that current service assurance systems face, and point out how a modern, strategic assurance system can satisfy SDN/NFV requirements.

The Purpose of Network Virtualization

The purpose of network virtualization is to drive the greater reuse and coordination of network-resident devices and software. The idea is to transform stacks of technology- and vendor-specific networks into a more open and adaptable infrastructure.

For example, with SDN, the applications that ask the network to perform a certain service – such as streaming a video from Los Angeles to Shanghai – can be totally ignorant about networking or video streaming. They simply delegate that work to an SDN control layer whose job is to orchestrate the service into a chain of services supplied by various network devices, servers and software components that perform their individual tasks.

NFV merely takes SDN to the next level, allowing the operator to park multiple network functions (or services) on formerly single-purpose devices, and even allowing those services to be consolidated on higher-level network devices.

How NFV and SDN Change the Stakes of Telecom Competition

So what are the new business models and efficiencies that SDN/NFV creates? Well, one of the key ones is allowing an operator to differentiate its services like an airliner does with first class, business and economy class service on its planes.

Enabling the network to differentiate services is the key to allowing operators to earn the most money for the value customers receive. But, because networks are very region-specific and single-purpose today, it’s hard to deliver differentiated service over them, and this is why SDN/NFV’s flexibility represents a key breakthrough.

Virtual networks will also enable a more optimal delivery of the different traffic types – email, video, data, cloud, voice, SMS, etc. Software will define what network functions, routing, and QoS belong to each traffic class.

Why Service Assurance is Essential to the New Network Virtualization

So the competitive stakes of SDN/NFV are fairly obvious: an operator who is savvy in NFV/SDN can potentially leapfrog its rivals through differentiation and gain market share. This is why it’s a major risk for an operator to merely sit on the sidelines and not invest in SDN/NFV.

And yet, SDN/NFV puts some pretty steep demands on service assurance. The three major challenges as I see them are these:

1. The Diversity and Complexity of Networks Goes Way Up

SDN won’t replace legacy networks overnight. So, for the foreseeable future, networks will be a mix of new virtual networks and legacy network infrastructure. Virtual and non-virtual networks will need to work side by side.

And NFV/SDN architectures introduce entirely new control processes that need to be monitored. For instance, virtual networks weave service chains that are constantly being re-provisioned and reconfigured by the SDN controller. Plus, a highly complex software environment with virtual machines and hypervisor is deployed. There are many complications here. For example, the connections between service chain components could be on a single virtual server or could be distributed across many servers.

Old service assurance systems are challenged to keep up with all this new complexity. Even under today’s non-virtual assurance world, these hard-coded custom systems are slow to adapt. As NFV/SDN comes on-line, this problem will become more acute.

2. Maintaining Service Topologies and Layers Gets Harder

Traditional networks are simpler because the physical hardware and network functions go together. Virtual architectures, however, move functionality wherever it’s needed, meaning it will be harder to monitor and correlate performance to determine service impact.

One of the biggest concerns here is maintaining up-to-date service topology. The service chaining in virtual networks will be hard to maintain unless you can modify and update service models in real-time.

Here too, the cumbersome manual effort required by traditional service assurance makes it hard to keep service definitions accurate. The slowdown often causes operators to abandon complex rule writing and maintenance required for alarm correlation and root-cause analysis. Yet another problem: the service provider is responsible for the time-consuming job of maintaining its own library of device adapters for monitoring the network.

3. There’s a Huge Emphasis on Accurate & Near Real-Time Monitoring of the Network State

Virtual networks will require constant monitoring in near real-time. That’s because the prices you offer and the services you push greatly depend on the network’s availability and current state, which can change rapidly. In other words, maintaining a deep understanding of the network’s current state and performance is essential.

So, this is yet another mismatch: current service assurance systems require too much time and too many human resources to deploy, administer and maintain the network. Even if you build virtual networks, they won’t deliver the efficiencies they promise because a flexible and real-time service assurance system is not supporting them.

Virtual Networks Require a Strategic Service Assurance Platform

A modern, strategic service assurance system is critical to making virtual network investments pay off. Three essential strategic assurance capabilities are:

1. Configured Out-of-the-Box Software, not Customized Frameworks

Service assurance needs to shift from a highly customized system to a true and modular software environment. To lighten the operator’s programming load, the vendor should supply device and network function libraries that keep up with the latest versions and capabilities.

2. Intuitive, Configurable Functionality without Programming and Real-time Service Visualization

Increasing staffing levels in the NOC and network operations support is not necessary if the design of the system facilitates adding a new device in matter of minutes. Wherever possible, point and click configuration should replace manual programming. In that way, service topology and hierarchy can be kept up-to-date so users can quickly identify the root-cause and service impact of problems that impact customers.

3. Dynamic Interaction between Service Assurance and Service Orchestration

Finally, for virtual networks to deliver their efficiency and differentiated services benefits, the assurance system must dynamically interact with the Service Orchestration. For the true power of virtualization to be realized, networks will have to adapt in real-time to network conditions and service modification requests. As network performance is impacted, the Service Assurance system must be able to communicate to the Orchestration platform in real-time to adapt or re-distribute network services to maintain network performance. Similarly, if a customer requests a change to their services through an online customer portal or app, the Orchestration platform needs to be able to update the Service Assurance system in real-time so that end-to-end service monitoring begins as soon as the service is available to the customer.

Virtual networks are a strategic investment for the future. They will take the telecom business to the next level of network efficiency and differentiated services. But operators also need to recognize the strategic importance of a modern service assurance solution that can monitor and keep pace with that virtual network.

About the Author

Anand Gonuguntla is the Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Centina Systems. Previously, Anand was the Director of Systems and Software Engineering at Xtera. Anand also held management positions in software and program management at Fujitsu where he worked on FLM and FLASHWAVE product lines.

Anand holds a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of North Dakota and a bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, India. He has published in Proceedings of ACM and holds patent in network management.

About Centina Systems

Centina Systems is the global leader in strategic service assurance and innovative network performance solutions. The company focuses on helping operators and enterprises worldwide support both established and emerging services and business models, through unparalleled end-to-end visibility into the operational performance of their infrastructure.

Centina’s NetOmnia family of assurance and management solutions have redefined the market approach to assurance, incorporating features like enhanced SLA management, real-time, visual data analytics, customizable reports and dashboards for dynamic network views, and an integrated, plug-and-play architecture that provides actionable intelligence across hundreds of device-types and multiple types of networks. The company is based in Plano, Texas.

Got an idea for a Blueprint column?  We welcome your ideas on next gen network architecture.
See our guidelines.

Finland's Ukko Networks Hits 507 Mbps in TDD LTE-A Trial

Ukko Networks, a mobile data operator in Finland, achieved a peak throughput of over 507Mbps in a trial of TDD LTE-A using 2*20Mhz carrier aggregation in the 2.6GHz band. Huawei supported the demonstration.

Huawei also showcased its Mate7 smart phone which is capable of handling a throughput of 200Mbps.

Last month, Ukko Networks launched the world’s first LTE 450MHz network in Finland, covering 99.98% of the country’s population.

Ukko Networks also plans to utilize the 50MHz LTE TDD frequency resource on the 2.6GHz band. Along with LTE-A technology, like CA and 4*4 MIMO, the LTE TDD network can provide a peak throughput of 507Mbps to a single user. By using a 450MHz and 2.6GHz LTE network, Ukko Networks will provide the widest LTE coverage and highest LTE throughput of any LTE network in Europe.

"Ukko Networks is clearly in a great position in the Finnish mobile market landscape, especially from a frequency resources point of view. After launching the best coverage network using LTE 450MHz technology, we will launch the LTE TDD 2.6GHz network, which aims to be the fastest network in Europe. It gives us high capacity and new added-value for this frequency in the use of mobile data. " said Antti Pellinen, CEO of Ukko Networks.

"As a strategic partner, Huawei not only provides end to end solutions to help Ukko Networks be the best in Finland’s mobile market, but also allows them to reduce their TCO and Opex, ultimately achieving business success in Finland’s telecom market." Said Mr. Yang Ge, Vice President of Huawei LTE TDD Product Line.

CSA: Security Remains Top Issue for Cloud Services

Decisions concerning the security of data in the cloud has shifted from the IT room to the boardroom, according to a newly published survey, titled Cloud Adoption, Practices and Priorities Survey Report, from the Cloud Security Alliance. The report includes responses from more than 200 IT and security professionals varying in company size and industries from the Americas, EMEA and APAC regions.

Some highlights:

  • Security of data remains a top barrier to cloud adoption
  • Nearly 72 percent or IT managers surveyed admitted that they did not know the number of shadow IT apps within their organization, but certainly want to.
  • Organizations are still moving forward in adopting cloud services, with 74 percent of respondents indicating they are either moving full steam ahead, or with caution, in the adoption of cloud services. 
  • Respondents from APAC indicated the highest level of adoption plans.  However, 34 percent of respondents indicated that a lack of knowledge and experience on the part of IT and business managers was a main reason for slow or lack of adoption.
  • Companies with more than 5,000 employees are more likely to have a cloud governance committee (35 percent versus 12 percent), have a policy on acceptable cloud usage (61 percent versus 45 percent), and have a security awareness training program (26 percent versus 20 percent) compared to companies with fewer than 5,000 employees.

“As companies move data to the cloud, they are looking to put in place policies and processes so that employees can take advantage of cloud services that drive business growth without compromising the security, compliance, and governance of corporate data,” said Jim Reavis, CEO of the CSA.  “We hope that this report provides companies with some good peer insight so that they can make better decisions to help confidently and responsibly accelerate the use of cloud services in their environment.”

The report is posted online.

Verizon Cloud Completes 40-hour Upgrade

Verizon Enterprise completed a major upgrade to its cloud infrastructure and storage systems that involved approximately a 40-hour planned outage for its cloud customers.

The new functionality allows Verizon to conduct major system upgrades in the future without interrupting service or limiting infrastructure capacity.

BICS Cites Rapid Rise in LTE Roaming

There has been a rapid increase in the number of operators deploying LTE roaming during the last year, with services now available in 75 countries, according to BICS, which provides wholesale carrier services.

Operators using BICS' IP exchange (IPX) platform can offer customers access to LTE roaming sessions with over 150 operators, through either direct connections or peering agreements.

Following pioneering launches in Asia, North America, Europe and Africa during 2013, last year saw widespread adoption in countries across the globe, including: Russia, South Africa, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, France, Poland and Rwanda. Carriers launching the service are able to offer their customers, and visitors roaming onto their network, access to the highest quality data services - driving revenues and increasing the quality of experience for end users.

"The growth in the number of networks offering LTE roaming services last year was astounding," said Mikaƫl Schachne, VP Mobile Data Business, BICS. "We can now expect carriers to begin utilising the whole spectrum of services enabled by IPX, including deploying next generation voice services and value added packages for subscribers, to further enhance services for their own customers and incoming roamers."