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The importance of service assurance for wireless network transformation

by Anand Gonuguntla Co-Founder, President & CEO, Centina

Among some of the greatest challenges facing the migration to virtual networks are concerns around reliability, complexity and volatility. For SDN/NFV to succeed, the service provided must be as reliable as the traditional services they replace.

To address these concerns, service assurance solutions must offer today’s mobile operators unprecedented flexibility and control that can only be achieved through sophisticated visualization and meaningful analytics coupled with unprecedented levels of automation. The key to successful service performance and optimization in virtualized networks is insightful multi-layered analytics; but the ability to provide resolution is highly dependent on dynamic remediation capabilities.

Mobile operators are actively working to implement the virtualization of their networks to take advantage of the new services and business benefits SDN and NFV will afford. Virtualization offers mobile providers a pathway for rapid orchestration and deployment of new services. This transformation to virtual infrastructure and services will require a new breed of service assurance solution. Without the ability to manage the complex wireless network of the future or the ability to guarantee service levels, 5G and virtual network investments monetization will be at risk. Hence, for operators looking to maximize their large-scale network transformation investments, service assurance should be top of mind.

There are four key reasons mobile operators should consider network assurance as a strategic and critical investment during their virtual transformations. They are:

Certainty in uncertain times
The road to network virtualization is filled with challenges, most of all is the impact this technology transformation will have on quality of service. But other factors like integration of new assets and speed to market of services in a dynamic environment are also to be considered. How does today’s mobile operator undergo virtual network transformation with such critical issues at stake?

Hybrid networks will be the reality during this complex transformation combining a mix of physical and virtual assets to be managed and monitored. Therefore, leveraging an assurance solution that has proven assurance abilities in both legacy as well as virtual networks is of utmost importance.

Things to look for: Assurance solutions that offer out-of-the box support for cloud environments including comprehensive monitoring of OpenStack infrastructure as well as pre-integration with industry standard VNFs and Orchestration systems.

Keeping the customer satisfied
Transformation often equals disruption— both innovative and painful. While industry disruption drives new business models and opportunities, service and infrastructure transformation can be a cost that operators pay. Choosing the right service assurance solution for transformation can be difficult. Operators need a solution that will allow them to visualize the health and performance of the end-to-end services across both virtual and physical assets in order to effectively assure customer services. Solutions should also be highly automated with self-healing capabilities to optimize performance in hybrid network environments.

Most importantly is proactive monitoring. Ensuring that your solution not only provides real-time root-cause analysis of network failures, but also can identify potential problems before they happen through machine learning and performance baselining, means that service providers can reduce the mean-time-to-repair of device failures and also prevent outages before they impact customers.

Risk mitigation
Among some of the greatest challenges facing the migration to virtual networks are concerns around reliability, complexity and volatility. For SDN/NFV to succeed, the service provided must be as reliable as the traditional services they replace.

To address these concerns, service assurance solutions must offer today’s mobile operators unprecedented flexibility and control that can only be achieved through sophisticated visualization and meaningful analytics coupled with unprecedented levels of automation. The key to successful service performance and optimization in virtualized networks is insightful multi-layered analytics; but the ability to provide resolution is highly dependent on dynamic remediation capabilities.

Network optimization
Transformation is not just a CTO effort, is a market imperative. That means that while networks must function without fail during periods of change, they must perform better. They must be more flexible and adaptable than traditional legacy networks. On the business side, this means reducing costs and optimizing the network to support scalability and changing customer demands. Virtualization is just one component driven by the need for flexibility and agility in a highly dynamic business and technology environment. Service assurance must be up for the task of monitoring mobile networks with new levels of complexity.

Selecting the right service assurance solution
But are all assurance solutions the same? How do mobile operators know what to look for in their early planning stages of digital transformation? Of course, the age-old question for service providers will always remain: Do you select an all-encompassing software solution that offers assurance as part of a suite of products or do you choose a best-of-breed provider that understands the importance of the role of assurance in transformation and can be your partner during a challenging transition?

Regardless of the solution provider you choose, one must be assured that the following characteristics are front and center in any service assurance solution you deploy on the road to network virtualization:

Holistic End-to-End Monitoring: A service assurance solution that sees well beyond the physical network to include end-to-end service visualization and correlation across the hybrid network to include PNFs, VNFs, VNFi, as well as service applications data center assets.

Automation: Service assurance in a virtual network environment means automating the resolution of issues through closed-loop feedback to orchestration systems, cloud and SDN controllers.

Intelligence Through Analytics-Performance: Metrics are a valuable measure of network performance yet ingesting and analyzing service performance as it relates to customer experience is critical to improving service reliability.

Rapid Deployment and Adaptability: In today’s highly competitive environment, the need to roll out services quickly and effectively is a necessity. Service providers must find an assurance solution that can move at their speed—that means quick to monitor new physical and virtual assets and dynamic and scalable enough to grow with them.

Much press is being given recently to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and how this can be of benefit to service assurance. Machine learning is a way of leveraging algorithms to parse data and “learn” from it by identifying patterns or anomalies. These similarities or differences can then be used to identify potential problems before they impact customers or to identify the root-cause of a problem based on the flood of network event data across the network.

Key to the success of machine learning is the completeness of the data and the topology of the network and services. If the service assurance solution is only used for monitoring certain layers of the network or certain applications, the complete picture is not available, and correlation will not be accurate. Similarly, the service assurance solution must have a complete view of the end-to-end and top-to-bottom topology of the network and, more importantly, services. In order to assure services, it is important to know what components of the network make up a service, across network layers as well as applications, so that correlation and anomaly detection can be accurate and identify the impact to customers and services.

Machine learning in the form of automated event correlation across network layers and how it applies to services can be achieved if the service assurance solution “understands” the event types being process, as opposed to just parsing and displaying event data for users to process. This understanding of the types of alarms received can then be used to correlate events by time and type and pinpoint the root-cause of issues, consolidate alarms to reduce network “noise” and direct operations to the source of the problem. This will directly lead to reducing MTTR – mean-time-to-repair and improving network uptime and customer experience.

Machine learning for network performance comes in the form of being able to “learn” the patterns of performance data across the network. This can apply to network performance data as well as service or application performance. A service assurance solution should have the ability to identify what’s “normal” for the network over time and then be able to identify anomalies and notify appropriate personnel. In this way, the service assurance solution becomes proactive and can identify potential issues before they impact customers.

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