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MWC 2017: service assurance key takeaways and observations

Anil Rao Principal Analyst, Research

"Vendors announced NFV assurance deals, signalling that CSPs are progressing their plans to virtualise their networks."

Analysys Mason attended the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017 held in Barcelona between 27 February to 2 March 2017. While the meetings and discussions were diverse and wide ranging, this research note focuses on the key takeaways relevant to service assurance.

The number of virtual networking assurance deals is increasing

A handful of high-profile communications service providers (CSPs) are deploying NFV/SDN-based virtual networks, but many CSPs have been taking a 'wait-and-watch' approach. In 2016, even the most aggressive CSPs moved cautiously on operationalising virtual networks, which caused a period of sluggishness in the take-up of service assurance solutions for NFV/SDN. However, the mood was comparatively more upbeat at MWC 2017.

Three prominent deals were announced in the lead up to MWC – all of them for Verizon in the USA.

  • SevOne announced a win with Verizon Enterprise to provide network visibility into SDN-based enterprise services, specifically, software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) services.
  • Ericsson won a deal with Verizon Enterprise to provide the orchestration and other enabling technologies for its virtualised global managed network services including SD-WAN. The solution includes embedded service assurance and closed-loop automation capabilities.
  • CENX will provide the tools to deliver a unified network topology view of the hybrid physical and virtual networks across Verizon's diverse network systems and data centres.1

Many independent service assurance vendors and large solution vendors (traditional network equipment providers, NFV full solution providers and system integrators) confirmed that they are engaged with top CSPs in various service assurance trials, which they expect to translate into commercial deals in 2017.

An increased emphasis on real-time topology was evident

CSPs have often complained that the centralised inventory systems do not reflect the true state of the physical and logical inventory, and therefore cannot be a single true source of inventory data for other OSS such as service assurance. To circumvent this issue, traditional performance monitoring and fault management systems that rely on accurate network topology data to perform critical functions, such as root cause analysis, have been developed with embedded topology discovery modules. However, the introduction of NFV/SDN has necessitated a redesign of the legacy topology discovery technology to make it fit for purpose for the dynamic nature of the virtual networks and service chains.

EXFO announced the acquisition of Ontology to bolster its probes-based assurance and analytics portfolio with real-time topology visualisation. CENX noted that its real-time topology solution will enable Verizon to operationalise NFV.2 Many other assurance vendors and systems integrators at the event reiterated the growing need for real-time topology discovery technology and explained how they are addressing it.

Operations automation in physical–hybrid networks will prepare the ground for 'extreme automation' in virtual networks

Operations automation is an important pre-requisite for the successful operationalisation of NFV/SDN networks. However, this will not happen overnight, not least because most CSPs are still assessing the available solution options (both vendor and do it yourself) and gauging the full scale of impact on the operational organisation (IT and networks). Furthermore, there is the larger issue of the organisational silos, general resistance and lack of trust in full process automation, because operations engineers like to retain full control of the process.

To aid the transition to 'extreme automation' in NFV/SDN networks, CSPs and vendors are exploring solutions that can be deployed in today's physical networks, and in hybrid network environments (as parts of the network become virtualised) to develop operational trust. Advanced analytics technologies such as machine learning are gradually making their way into mainstream solutions to increase the accuracy of decisions (otherwise made by human engineers) that will in turn drive automation. Initially, this will take the form of open loop automation or guided automation, where the operational engineers will be allowed to control the process at key decision points.

Other notable assurance takeaways and observations

  • Analytics-driven assurance is now a norm, with most solutions incorporating some level of analytics to drive use cases to reduce time to action for troubleshooting, predictive maintenance and assurance, and service quality management and QoE assurance, which sets the stage for the next wave of innovation around machine learning and artificial intelligence-led automation.
  • Assurance vendors are increasingly engaging in open-source orchestration initiatives such as ETSI Open Source MANO (OSM) and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP – the merged ECOMP and OPEN-O).
  • VMware launched vCloud NFV 2.0, which brings together the latest versions of vSphere, NSX, VSAN, vCloud Director for service providers and VMware integrated OpenStack. The solution also includes the vRealize operations modules – Network Insight, Log Insight and Operations Advanced, which provide the basic building blocks for monitoring and assuring the NFVI. The solution embeds analytics to enable performance feedback and remediation capabilities, and provides visibility into the physical and virtual infrastructure components, exposed via open APIs for integration with higher-order service assurance modules.
  • Early evidence of IoT assurance use cases are emerging such as connectivity assurance, geo location and tracking, and commercial or business SLA management.