Intelligent network automation holds promise for operators

As the communications industry races toward new technologies like 5G, massive IoT and cloud everywhere, it’s vital that operators make the move from network management to intelligent network automation. Without intelligent automation, networks that already are overwhelmed with the demands of today’s connected world stand absolutely no chance of scaling to the demands of tomorrow’s network.

But how operators make the transition to an automated network management system (NMS) is vitally important, as well. Consider the wide variations required for automating network management systems in just a few scenarios:

  • To achieve faster time to market for next-generation services like IoT, an operator wants a network management system that directly enables services based on application requirements and intent, with minimal user intervention.
  • To eliminate downtime associated with manual and human discovery of network degradation, an operator needs its NMS to automatically recover from network degradation, as well as variations in network behavior created when adhering to service-level agreements (SLAs).
  • To improve operations efficiency and time to market for new services, an operator needs its NMS to automatically interpret network configuration parameters and orchestrate end-to-end networks based on service and application requirements.

Regardless of the application, for automation of NMSes to be effective, the transition has to be made without causing major disruptions to existing operations. As such, operators should consider an overlay-based system that allows for a phased deployment, beginning with current processes and adding automation as required or necessary.

Following this trajectory enables operators to immediately onboard new services as required by customers, consistently meet network performance and SLAs in line with customer commitments and optimize network resources.

How to make the transition

A number of factors should be considered by operators to ensure that existing networks continue to operate effectively during the transition to intelligent network automation. In fact, adding intelligence should always be done in such a way that it complements existing network services and configurations.

For instance, operators should consider how automation will impact all five levels of network management: fault management, configuration, accounting, performance and security (FCAPS). An intelligent NMS overlay system should orchestrate fully with existing FCAPS network management frameworks.

The NMS overlay also should integrate machine learning-based algorithms for internal workflows. The internal workflows can continue to improve their recovery capabilities based on internal network and external events that can help predict potential network degradation, while at the same time providing information to the operator as to steps being taken to recover network performance. Doing so ensures that stakeholders are always aware of what’s happening in the network, automating processes when possible and, ultimately, guaranteeing performance based on SLAs.

Additionally, a true multidomain system will automate the connection of interfaces in all directions to existing element management systems, management and orchestration systems and operational support systems (OSSes). Southbound interfaces provide communication and management between the software-defined network controller, nodes, physical and virtual switches and routers. Northbound interfaces are used to convey alarms, performance, inventory, provisioning, configuration and security-related information for network elements (NEs), which are passed or forwarded to the OSS. Most importantly, all interfaces north of the NMS are oriented toward specific services — including next generation services — thereby facilitating the complete networking needs of the service to a single management system.

Additionally, eastbound and westbound traffic should be automated to ensure that virtualized components are considered throughout the operation, as well for any required recovery. Integration of the application performance, network performance and virtualized infrastructure performance provides a comprehensive view of the health of the network and service, and additionally the ability to correct any deficiency to continue to provide high-value application-specific network needs.

The impact on operations and services

Intelligent network automation can have tremendous impact on operations. For instance, intelligent network automation supports a services-oriented approach to operations which, in turn, allows the organization to better focus on customer needs.

Additionally, intelligent automation enables the NMS to manage network components and expose issues on the network without human intervention. As such, customers and operators have immediate access to service performance and parameters. When partnered with canonical data models, all operations systems, including customer relationship management, can readily have information immediately available to deal with any customer service workflows. The intelligent network management system also inherently supports that addition of automation at the service layer by implementing advanced robotics, for example, robotic process automation systems.

Intelligent network automation also gives operators the option of providing a portal for customers to control their service parameters. This is especially helpful for customers that have varying network needs, such as providing services at sporting events.

But next-generation NMSes also give operators a plethora of new applications and services to support. In addition to supporting traditional network services, intelligent network automation and orchestration enables SD-WAN and similar agile network services. As a result, enterprises glean a number of performance and cost benefits with SD-WAN technology, including high-quality data transfer, increased provisioning and uptime, and embedded security features.

For next-generation applications, operators also gain the ability to build out edge clouds, while virtualizing network functions. The combination of a multicloud environment built on virtualized infrastructure gives operators more flexibility and responsiveness to changing network demand, at greater scale and with a lower price point.

Finally, intelligent network automation enables operators to create unique network offerings for vertical businesses’ specific digital transformation. In order to support industrial IoT, connected car applications and smart cities, operators must have the ability to create application-specific network parameters and performance for different use cases.

Without question, today’s operators have tremendous opportunities for developing new services and applications on next-generation networks. Operators that distinguish themselves in the market will be those that develop and implement a plan now to incorporate intelligent network automation as part of their next-gen technology plans.

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