Enterprise software applications, which used to run on dedicated processors on customers' premises, are moving to the cloud. But what about the business support systems (BSS) and operations support systems (OSS) that are considered to be critical to the success of communications service providers (CSPs)?
The industry is awash with new ideas that threaten to disrupt this market of $100 billion in annual spend. In this article, we will look at many of those ideas and assess where we are currently, and what each one might mean in the future.
Figure 1: Major steps in moving BSS and OSS to the cloud
Running BSS and OSS on the cloud
In general, BSS and OSS systems are being certified to run on hypervisors, running in 'virtualized data centers'. This provides some value, mostly IT cost reduction, but does not bring to bear the real power of cloud computing – that takes 'cloud-native' software, delivered in several different ways. Here we provide a brief perspective of the various terms used in the marketplace.
- Virtualized. Nearly all BSS and OSS vendors have redesigned (or retested) their products to run on a private virtualized data center infrastructure built on hypervisors (such as VMWare). Most CSPs require this for new system deployments.
- Cloud-enabled. Many BSS and OSS vendors use 'cloud-enabled' to refer to systems that run on a modern, virtualized data center infrastructure and take advantage of the scalability inherent in these clouds. Most are being run in private, virtualized data centers, but some are on private clouds, and a few are on public clouds.
- Managed services. Managed services (on clouds) will continue to be popular for the foreseeable future, with more than 80% of CSPs saying they are open to this delivery model.
- Software as a service (SaaS). CSPs do not seek SaaS, in general – most vendors consider it to be a "sales problem" to be overcome. However, it is becoming more popular, especially in activation (where there are many types of equipment with constantly evolving interfaces and stateless activation transactions), and customer care (where Salesforce.com has validated the area). The SaaS model has also proven its value when the solution must be implemented quickly for business reasons.
- Cloud native. Cloud native is the new software architectural buzzword, even stronger than J2EE and .NET in the near past, or Client/Server in the more distant past. Most CSPs are not ready to absorb it and the new DevOps processes it requires, and will need time and help to do so over the next decade. In fact, the biggest bottleneck to CSPs adopting cloud-native architecture is not the technology cost but rather the cost of organization and cultural shift that is necessary to support new processes and procedures. Cloud-native software can be defined as a set of architectural characteristics that take advantage of the features of modern, virtualized data centers, and match it with the DevOps development and delivery processes. It also provides the kind of non-stop operation and system scalability, reliability and security that are available in modern software platforms such as those built by Netflix and Amazon and are deployed on major cloud platforms. These characteristics are primarily:
- microservices-based internal and external APIs
- (fine-grained) SOA APIs designed to be evolved rapidly
- containerization of the microservice to allow independent deployment
- data architecture that allows easy scalability on a cloud infrastructure
- continuous and automatic integration of the microservices and continuous delivery of code versions for automated testing and installation.
Third-party clouds are the future – but it will take a while
Many systems are moving beyond simple virtualization and are being run on dynamic private or even public clouds. CSPs will migrate many to hybrid clouds because of concerns about data security and regulations on where data are stored and processed.
We believe that over the next 15 years, nearly all software systems will migrate to clouds provided by third parties and be whatever cloud native becomes when it matures. They will incorporate many open-source tools and middleware packages, and may include some major open-source platforms or sub-systems (for example, the size of OpenStack or ONAP today).
The coming cloud-native environment of 'free' scalability, much greater feature velocity, resilience to underlying hardware failures, greater software reliability and microservices-based collaborative development of software between vendor and CSP will be a difficult, but worthwhile, road to travel.
Cloud computing will be a driver of major BSS and OSS transformations
'Going to the cloud' is not the reason that CSPs are replacing systems, but the ability to be deployed on the cloud and exhibiting some characteristics of 'cloud-native' architecture is an RFP requirement if the system is new. For now, hand waving seems sufficient to prove 'cloud native'. The requirement will become real within two years.
Digital transformations are ongoing in BSS, albeit at a slow rate
Top-tier CSPs in developed markets are adding functionality to existing single-vendor installations or putting in adjunct systems (or dual-tier systems) and integrating them into the legacy systems to improve digital experience and customer satisfaction or to simply reduce costs by moving to more digital sales and support channels.
Smaller CSPs and those in emerging markets are replacing ageing, low-functionality BSS with transformation projects.
But these are not being driven by the need to go to the cloud.
Going cloud native will drive transformations in OSS near term and BSS long term
Network function virtualization (NFV) will transform OSS in the next 2 to 5 years to create the digital operating platform (DOP) of the future – network and service orchestration, inventory and service assurance. It will be cloud native.
Next-generation BSS – transformations to a digital business platform (DBP), the next generation of BSS, is expected to come strongly into play in the next 5 to 10 years as cloud-native systems start to predominate and the network and DOP agility far surpasses the BSS agility – again.
Mark H. Mortensen is research director and practice head for customer-facing systems in Analysys Mason's Telecoms Software and Networks research stream.