DonRiver partnered with Telecoms.com to discuss the evolving world of operational support systems, how historical network management tools are becoming fragmented, and how the telecoms industry can move to refresh and simplify OSS.
Complexities in network architectures throughout the telecommunications industry have led to an increased requirement for more sophisticated visibility and management systems. With the birth of the 4G mobile network, and superfast fibre broadband for fixed providers, taking an integrated view of next generation and legacy networks is becoming increasingly essential for today’s operator. When considering the rise in convergent strategies being adopted by telcos today, the need for more efficient network management systems is emphasized further.
OSS is evolving, says Kent McNeil, who is the co-founder of specialist OSS firm DonRiver. McNeil reckons increased network and service complexity is the primary driver in a changing attitude towards OSS.
“In a classroom sense, it [OSS] means a way to deliver and assure services to their customers. Historically, OSS is the back office support or the ‘network view’ of things; versus BSS, which is the customer view of the world,” he says.” Although that is the standard definition everyone repeats, in practice it is very much a dated concept because the line blurs more as networks and services become more complex.
“If the ecosystem was more efficient and the products more adaptable I don’t think having separate definitions for the two would make sense anymore. It is really only the historically domain-focused products that drive the separation and that is simply because they are forever embedded in the CSP’s infrastructure once implemented.”
In an ideal world, McNeil says we’d lose redundant legacy products and consolidate OSS and BSS into one broader management philosophy, with fragmentation being one of the major challenges he sees in today’s industry.
“If service providers could quickly remove these legacy products then the marketplace would have consolidated this definition long ago, but it is very difficult to remove thus the domain products live on and so does the OSS/BSS definition,” he says. “The TMforum conducted interviews with over 100 service providers; of the top 12 items listed as a ‘Challenge for Success’ in 2015, six were focused on fragmentation. Currently, I hear the complaint over and over again that what CSP’s are really struggling with is not necessarily they quality of their product and tools, but how many they have to support and the total cost of ownership of those tools.”
To remedy the difficulties posed by fragmented OSS which is stretched to cover multiple management lines, McNeil suggests a means of detaching user behaviour from IT policy and process in the OSS arena.
“Federation allows CSPs to decouple the business process from the underlying systems, and this is an incredibly important and powerful tool,” he says. “Once the process is decoupled, user interruption and impact is removed. This enables IT to set strategies that make IT sense but do not impact the user’s daily process or require expensive training or endure a new learning curve.
“At that point CSPs are empowered when it comes to renegotiating existing contracts as consolidation takes form. It’s important to understand that although consolidation is often necessary, it is very risky, expensive and historically based in failure if one or more user groups’ daily function is disrupted.”
Moving on from the main challenges faced by operators in the OSS field today, emerging network management practises in the telecoms domain, such as network functions virtualization (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN), have been linked with potential applicability and benefits for systems support. Often synonymised, McNeil sees a distinct difference between the two in this space, and reckons NFV is more likely to have use to OSS professionals than SDN.
“Those two [NFV and SDN] always get lumped together,” he says. “They are sort of related, but not really. There is no doubt that SDN offers a lot of value to CSP’s but I really don’t think it will impact OSS very much. It will, of course, have some impact if you are doing real-time analytics; but I don’t think those impacts will translate into massive feature or product changes.
“As for NFV, it sounds amazing and will certainly do something for operators, but right now it feels a lot like Big Data did 5 years ago: lots of hype, lots of trendiness and not a lot of practical use cases or success to build on.”
McNeil’s hesitancy towards jumping on the hype bandwagon appears to be well reasoned, when he refers back to his earlier point relating to OSS fragmentation.
“NFV certainly has potential benefits, but at this stage how much of a CSPs revenue will be resulting from it in the next 2-3 years?” he says. “OSS will need to change, but ultimately the way it’s currently being discussed is a whole other risk in my opinion. It could shape up to be yet another ‘thing’ being managed by yet another product that further fragments the already amazingly fragmented OSS space.”
While acknowledging the potential being offered up by NFV, McNeil instead offers a cautionary approach to adopting new technologies affecting OSS.
“I would venture into NFV very slowly,” he says. “Not because some equipment manufacturer is telling me I have to use a brand new OSS product, when we don’t understand how much this will impact the services that telcos sell and support. If I were a CSP I would question why my existing infrastructure cannot be modified in some way to support it because this will not be the last new technology to be invented. Will you always need a new OSS every technology revolution? I would hope not.”
When considering forward-facing technologies, McNeil explains his viewpoint on some of the future challenges operators are likely to come up against in the next 12 to 24 months. The integration of new technologies and the targeting of tailored solutions designed on a bespoke basis are the key areas McNeil considers to be major challenges for operators in the not-too-distant future.
“The entire network still needs to be managed and that means even the boring legacy ‘stuff’ as well as how much ‘stuff’ is still in the ether that everyone ignores but is nonetheless essential in delivering many lucrative services,” he says. “The main challenge will be to resist adding additional system fragmentation in the name of SDN or NFV.
“The challenge in that will be for the CSPs to set their own strategy against the strategy of equipment vendors. It’s very easy to get overly excited and feel like you will miss out if you don’t quickly implement something that seems to be right, but I would err on the side of caution. Just because OSS needs to change does not necessarily mean that yet another product is the answer. Regardless of the product’s features, it will still create network and data fragmentation.”
“The balance is for IT to support the desires of network engineers to implement new technologies in the network without derailing the OSS landscape that IT is already struggling to manage and afford.”