NetOps has been an increasingly popular topic of conversation with communication service providers (CSPs) this year as they all strive to improve their service delivery speed and efficiency.
The conversations stem from the increasing demands of customers, who continuously want more speed and agility from the network services they’re buying to connect their businesses or organizations to the cloud.
CSPs face growing competitive pressure from many angles. This pressure comes from webscale providers and X-as-a-Service vendors, ICT vendors with enterprise-focused SD-WAN and cloud security offerings, and nimbler CSPs. Enterprises may perceive these competitors as being more agile and, therefore, delivering more business value than CSPs. It’s no longer just about being better than a competitive CSP. To win enterprise business, CSPs need a network and service delivery environment that’s as agile as the cloud.
Most CSPs recognize that traditional upgrade cycles and waterfall-style project delivery are hindering the speed of change on the network platforms that customers rely on for their managed network services. CSPs see NetOps as the way to modernize conventional network operations culture and processes and drive a more automated and iterative approach so they can seamlessly deliver more functionality to their customer base.
Enter Enhanced NetOps
The fundamental deliverables of network operations haven’t changed: Customers procure network services, and CSPs fulfill and assure them. What is changing is the speed at which these services are fulfilled and assured. It’s best to think of this as a move to “Enhanced NetOps.”
CSPs need two building blocks to create the foundation for Enhanced NetOps. The first is to shift the culture of the operations environment to expect change and focus on minimizing the side effects and risks that change could bring to the network and its services. The second is to adopt automation tools that will enable a more agile and iterative approach to service provisioning and day 2 operations tasks such as upgrades.
These two building blocks work hand in hand to deliver the benefits of Enhanced NetOps. They allow CSPs to break free from conventional, change-averse thinking and embrace a more anticipatory, less reactive environment. This shifts the focus of operations from the traditional back-foot stance, where CSPs wait for problems to occur or new requirements to emerge, to a more front-foot mode, where new toolsets deliver proactive intelligence that continuously monitors and enhances the customer experience.
With this foundation in place, CSPs can implement the right tools and processes to deliver the network visibility and automation they need. Processes should be based on best practices in Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) to make network platform configuration changes and upgrades iterative and reduce their impact.
Once operationalized, these customer services require anticipatory tools to monitor and diagnose network trends well before they become issues. This is where modern network operating systems (NOSs) that run on the network platforms excel.
These extensible NOS suites have inbuilt telemetry that streams in-depth details about the network platforms and the traffic flows that ride over them. The telemetry also operates with data sets that demand machine-to-machine intelligence. This does not mean that human-based operations are less significant. Rather, the amount of network services and level of telemetry data require machine-based automation to separate the signals from the noise.
Enhanced NetOps delivers a more consistent workload for the CSP team. Gone are the days of year-long peak and trough waterfall projects with the need to hire external skillsets for the duration of the network upgrade, only to let them go and lose that institutional knowledge. With NetOps, operational staff skills are iteratively built around CI/CD, with the team constantly immersed in automated iterations on the network.
A Final Word on Enhanced NetOps
CSP networks are large, span great distances, and support a multitude of customers across many platforms and services.
Just as the CSP network wasn’t rolled out in one night, the evolution to Enhanced NetOps should happen in stages. For some CSPs, it might make sense to evolve on a network platform basis. Others might want to start the evolution on a network domain, such as the enterprise provider edge or the IP access and aggregation network.
The tools required to deliver Enhanced NetOps are available now. They include automation, telemetry, and extensible NOSs with next-gen model-driven management protocols. Changing the culture around the way CSP networks are deployed and operated is key for 2024. I’m sure that the conversations around NetOps will continue to grow, as will those innovative CSPs making the move towards Enhanced NetOps to speed up service delivery.
Rudy Hoebeke is Vice President of Product Management for Nokia's IP Service Routing portfolio.