As CSPs begin the shift to virtualized, software-controlled networks, they are rethinking how they build their service delivery platforms to save costs, deliver a superior customer experience and more efficiently manage the network based services. The first stage of this transition is to virtualize the network functions, laying the foundation for the next phase of controlling the network via software and then thirdly automation – the ultimate goal of the CSPs’ NFV transformation. However, to reach this objective, CSPs will need to rethink service assurance. Copying and pasting a legacy assurance solution into the virtual network would be like taking a fish and expecting it to run in a hound race. No use to anyone and out of its natural environment. The cornerstone of a successful NFV transition is to deploy a cloud-native assurance solution; ensuring the change is transparent to a CSPs’ subscribers and a crucial link in reaching the third stage of the NFV migration – automation.

Service assurance solutions for legacy networks are mature, but network function virtualization is a whole new ball game and jumping from hardware to software expertise requires new skill sets and virtualization know-how. Virtual networks are dynamic and constantly changing;  like those hammer games at the amusement arcade where a mouse pops up from a hole on the top left, and before you manage to hit the target with the hammer it’s already disappeared and appeared on the bottom left. Service assurance needs to track all these dynamic changes in real-time to maintain service quality and aid the CSP to troubleshoot network performance issues.  

Virtual traffic also adds to the complexity. In legacy networks, the only traffic that needs to be monitored by assurance is traffic that enters and leaves the hardware (known as North-South traffic), but in virtualized networks, proprietary hardware boxes become virtualized applications on standard servers. To understand this change in the network think back to pre-smartphone days when going on holiday would involve taking a camera, book, maps, travel guides, and board games, etc. Today, all those devices are apps on the smartphone or in telecom networks virtualized software on standard servers. The “appification” of functions creates added challenges to assurance solutions as the traffic between applications (East-West traffic) is monitored while at the same time these functions are constantly changing.

NFV allows CSPs to deliver agile and dynamic services that require service assurance to be embedded into the network to maintain closed-loop control, to keep up with the constant changes and to sync with the network management layer. Inserting assurance into the network requires real-time performance and an architecture designed for these cloud environments. CSPs who want to enjoy a successful NFV transformation, have to deploy a service assurance solution that is completely native to the NFV environment and adapts itself to dynamically changing virtualized environments and elastic network growth.

Automation

Automation is the key. Every industry reaches a stage whereby automating operations and processes are critical to its continued success and also lays down the foundations for future innovations. Industrial automation drastically improved manufacturing, quality control, material handling and allowed the industry to scale efficiently. Traffic lights helped automate and manage the traffic flow more proficiently and make roads safer. Surprisingly traffic lights started as traffic signals even before cars entered the picture. In retailing, online shopping has automated almost the entire buying process. In the not too distant future, an online purchase will be delivered by drone without the person that ordered even moving a finger.

CSPs need automation to manage their network efficiently, maintain service quality and improve the customer experience. To bring automation into the telecom networks, CSPs need closed-loop control which according to the British Standard Institution is “a control system possessing monitoring feedback…” For communication networks monitoring feedback is service assurance.

With assurance in place, the network is like a central heating boiler that comes with a thermostat that constantly monitors the house temperature, and provides feedback to ensure maintenance of the temperature set on the thermostat. The central heating continually adjusts itself to the feedback from the thermostat. A network without assurance would be like a central heating boiler controlled only by a timer, so that heat is always applied regardless of the temperature of the house.

In virtual networks, the NFV MANO (NFV Management and Orchestration) manages the virtual network services, while the NFV Orchestrator (NFVO) is responsible for assuring the provisioned services, as well as remediation and optimization tasks. Cloud-native service assurance (like the thermostat) continuously sends feedback to the NFVO to resolve issues automatically, maintaining service quality and ensuring a high-quality customer experience.

Today’s networks are already challenging to manage. Once 5G is introduced and Internet of Things traffic increases automation will be even more essential. Adding automation should not be looked at negatively or in trepidation as it does not replace network engineers but automates portions of their workload, freeing them up to handle more important tasks. Not only that, The Paradox of Automation states that the more efficient the automated system, the more crucial the human interaction is. If an automated system has an error, it will multiply that mistake until it’s fixed or shut down. So, network engineers will be the masters; deploying automation as a critical tool to more efficiently manage the network and increase customer satisfaction.  

Reaching this automated, closed-loop network is a long-term goal for CSPs. However, to achieve this target the right foundations will need to be in place first. One of those foundations is to deploy a service assurance solution native to the network, and in this cloud era, that solution has to be built as cloud-native from the very initial architecture.

Learn how RADCOM’s cloud-native service assurance integrates into the NFV environment to automate assurance and deliver a closed-loop solution to advance your NFV transformation by downloading the full white paper cloud-native service assurance white paper.