Establishing an OSS strategy for SDN/NFV

Phil Marshall / Tolaga Research
27 Oct 2015

Operational support systems (OSS) are a mainstay of telecom services and have evolved over many years to support the high performance demands of the specialized vertical infrastructure platforms used for telecom networks.

Traditional OSS solutions have hierarchical architectures consisting of element, network, and service management systems that are responsible for a variety of operational functions - including fault and configuration management, provisioning and security. To achieve this, OSS solutions are effective in managing complexity, which contrasts against typical IT environments where it is necessary to abstract complexity using operational automation.

As operators contemplate their future migration towards SDN and NFV architectures, they must anticipate the tremendous impact on OSS architectures, which need to evolve from their traditional roots in “complexity management” to embrace “complexity abstraction” and automation. This not only impacts the OSS software solutions that are needed for SDN and NFV, but also affects:

  • Organizational structures for network operations. In particular, with the abstraction of complexity and adoption of operational automation, it’s likely that telecom operations can be managed by fewer technical staff: ones who have the necessary training to support specialized telecom functions operating within standardized and virtualized IT environments.
  • OSS strategies for legacy systems. Since it will take many years (possibly decades) for networks to migrate off legacy telecom platforms and fully incorporate SDN/NFV functionality, operators require OSS strategies to simultaneously operate legacy and SDN/NFV network equipment in parallel. This is further challenged by a lack of consistency in the OSS strategies for SDN/NFV across different network domains, particularly in cases where operators have multiple initiatives running in parallel.
  • The balance between traditional and agile design principles. Many industry pundits are promoting SDN and NFV as a means for telecom operators to become more agile. While this agility is crucial for many of the emerging services that telecom operators are deploying, there are also many traditional services sufficiently static in design that they are not well suited to agile design and operational approaches. This potentially complicates telecom transformation efforts, particularly if it causes network operations teams to have “straddled” strategies.
  • The five-nines principle. In traditional network designs, each network node is expected to achieve five-nines performance, and OSS systems are designed accordingly. However since resources are virtualized for SDN/NFV, it is no longer necessary for individual virtual functions to have five-nines performance, but rather the ecosystem as a whole. OSS systems must be capable of orchestrating virtual network resources to ensure that end-to-end ecosystems achieve the necessary performance. Standardized approaches for achieving this in agile environments have yet to be fully developed.
  • The operational role of end-point devices such as CPEs, smartphones, and IoT devices. In particular, end-point devices will ultimately be virtualized as part of the SDN/NFV environments, to capitalize on their compute, memory, and I/O capabilities. Since the OSS solutions needed for SDN/NFV require an end-to-end (rather than siloed) focus, they will ultimately require seamless operational integration with end-point devices.

While SDN/NFV presents a variety of challenges for telecom operators, its adoption is inevitable. Those operators who establish OSS strategies that anticipate the salient characteristics of SDN/NFV ecosystems will be well positioned to capitalize on these strategies for competitive advantage.

Phil Marshall is chief research officer for Tolaga Research

This article first appeared in Telecom Asia SDN Cloud Insights October edition

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