Lessons from the cloud will help telcos get better at services. Here’s why.
The cloud initially ruffled some feathers in the telecom industry
Telecom network operators were nothing if not rattled when cloud computing arrived on their doorstep. In an industry where competition was already ripe and growing consolidation a certainty, the thought of more players entering the fray set alarm bells ringing. But they had little to counter cloud providers’ low-cost services that could be switched on quickly and scaled flexibly.
The cloud business model appealed not only to end users but also to the telcos themselves. ‘Cloudification’ and virtualization technologies such as NFV (Network Function Virtualization) and SDN (Software-Defined Networking) were ushered in with much fanfare. They promised to transform the economics of telecoms and make operators more agile in creating new services.
But nearly half a decade later, few operators have virtualized their networks to any great extent. There is one area operators critically need to get to grips with for this transition to happen, and that’s onboarding – the process of setting up virtual network functions (VNFs) and new services on the network.
I wouldn’t start from here
In the past, telecoms networks were relatively static and there was little of what we now call service innovation. For the better part of the last century, telecom networks mainly provided fixed-line voice communications, quite often in monopoly settings.
As these started to break down in the 1990s, competitive pressures mounted, and creating new services became fundamental to winning, retaining and growing customer revenues. At this point, there was little automation. New services were created from scratch and onboarded manually – a costly, slow and cumbersome process in what was a fast-paced marketplace.
While telcos have caught up to some extent and automated some aspect of this, NFV/SDN will mean going the whole hog and automating the entire onboarding process. This will give us not only cost advantages but also a much greater agility to develop and launch new services at an unprecedented pace.
Taking the Lego approach
In moving towards cloud-based networks and automated onboarding, we can learn from the best practices established in cloud computing. DevOps (Development and Operations) is one of these.
DevOps is an approach that brings together developers who create software with operational staff who manage networks, two functions which typically have little crossover. Both take part in creating a new piece of software, a network function or service, and jointly accompany it through its lifecycle.
This means that how the service works and interacts with other parts of the network is built into the service from the start. It’s not left until the service is ready to be deployed and tested. The main advantage of this is that less integration will be needed during onboarding, with obvious time and cost savings. But as an additional benefit, taking the DevOps approach also creates pre-packaged service components, which can be reused.
So, instead of building services from scratch as we used to, we can simply re-use components and put them together differently to create new services. This Lego block approach has obvious cost and time advantages and will speed up service creation markedly.
Gazing into the crystal ball
With an automated onboarding process and ready-made building blocks for services, all the time-consuming, labour-intensive tasks around service creation can be reduced to a minimum.
But for the network to manage itself in this way, functions and services need to anticipate future requirements. Many of these will be unpredictable, especially considering that one service might become the building block of another service in the future.
One consequence of this is that we need to give VNFs and services more functionality than they may strictly need at the time of their creation. But that’s a small price to pay for an infrastructure that can create, scale and repair itself, with minimum human intervention.
This blog is part of our ONAP Insider series, which takes you behind the scenes, offering a more in-depth look at the workings of ONAP, how it is changing business models, simplifying network design and untapping new business opportunities for service providers, content developers and end-users. Go to ONAP Insider.