What lessons can our industry take from an orchestral conductor that will help make 5G network services sing?
Just as the conductor’s role is to get all the musicians performing in harmony, orchestration is vital to empower CSPs to overcome the challenges and complexities of delivering services across multi-vendor, multi-technology 5G networks and cloud silos.
Why does an orchestra need a conductor?
With their prominent position at the front of the stage, and everyone’s eyes fixed on them, the conductor certainly look important. But given that the musicians already have music scores to guide them, shouldn’t they be able to manage on their own?
A symphony orchestra comprises a group of highly skilled musicians, each of whom has learned and practiced their instrument for years. Of course, each one knows their own line on the score. But left to perform without unifying control, they may play the right notes but there won’t be a shared voice when it comes to speed, volume or expression. The conductor is the one who unifies all these variables, weaving the individual instruments into a cohesive unit and giving life to the music on the page.
Modern telecommunication networks are much like orchestras, with network services as the ‘symphonies’. Network services are ‘composed’ by chaining specialized siloed capabilities across a hybrid network that spans multiple domains and technologies, as well as a mix of physical, virtual and cloud network functions that spread all the way from the network access and edge to the core, telco cloud – and now, also public clouds.
Just as the challenge for a conductor is to get all the musicians to perform a symphony in a harmonized way, operators must overcome the challenges and complexities of providing services across multi-vendor, multi-technology networks and cloud silos to deliver committed performance levels and meet customers’ needs and expectations.
Challenges on the journey to 5G
CSPs are progressing on their network virtualization journeys by gradually introducing network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN). Until the journey is complete, many parts of the network will continue to rely on traditional physical appliance-based network elements for the foreseeable future. This mix of siloed virtual and physical network domains and clouds managed by specific domain orchestrators, controllers or other management systems, exposes critical multi-vendor and multi-domain complexities, while diminishing end-to-end visibility and control, and the ability to run operational processes efficiently.
While some operators are trying to bridge these silos with highly disjointed manual processes, this approach does not scale. Trying to manage highly complex 5G services using manual processes that span multiple system silos is extremely difficult, undermining the ability of CSPs not only to innovate and meet their customers’ emerging needs, but also to deliver and operate services in a timely manner that complies with service-level agreements.
For these reasons, successful 5G SA and network cloudification require existing operations, orchestration and assurance systems to undergo a major uplift so that they can tackle the business challenges of today and tomorrow that these systems were never designed to address.
Getting a slice of the 5G action
Almost every 5G service must operate across a network that spans multiple domains, vendors and technologies, all the way from the radio access to the edge and core, and accessing the telco and public clouds. One such key service is 5G network slicing.
5G network slicing enables CSPs to move away from the rigid ‘one size fits all’ business model to offer differentiated connectivity services such as ultra-low latency and massive IoT services with varying network performance characteristics. To deliver on this promise, an end-to-end network slice orchestration and operations solution is vital, specifically one that can create, provision and manage the lifecycle of network slices spanning the RAN, edge, transport and core network domains.
An end-to-end network slice orchestration solution monitors the performance of each individual network slice, ensuring it meets its SLAs by triggering the underlying domain controllers to make corrective actions to resolve service degradation.
A recent IDC survey* confirms that the telecommunications industry is ready to take this step. Nearly 50% of respondents state that an end-to-end (E2E) service and network orchestration solution spanning multiple domains and integrating with multiple network orchestrators and controllers, is their preferred automation approach. Furthermore, with only 5% planning to continue using the service and network orchestration systems they have in place today, CSPs clearly appreciate the emerging complexity of this new multi-domain environment, as well as the need to expand into new modes of operation. In terms of intent, it strongly suggests these players want a solution for end-to-end network and service orchestration that empowers them through efficient and effective service lifecycle management of network and cloud services across multiple siloed domains, vendor technologies and hybrid networks.
The critical role of service orchestration in driving 5G success
Just as a conductor acts as the orchestra’s quality control manager – unifying the musicians, setting the tempo, listening critically, anticipating and calling out errors – this is precisely what an end-to-end service and network orchestration solution offers when it comes to 5G networks. By executing continuous service fulfilment and dynamic closed-loop assurance and enforcement of services, xNFs, and network and cloud resources policies, the orchestrator ensures that service intent and quality of experience are maintained.
Designed and implemented in partnership with the right vendor, such a solution will enable CSPs to fully exploit their investments in best-of-breed specialized network technologies, while unleashing the huge potential of 5G services, along with programmable and cloud-native networks, to create new revenue streams.
*5G network automation report, IDC, February 2022