The challenge for carriers today is to establish a global and standardised network operating system that ties together both networks and applications. Verizon and Nakina teamed up to use the TM Forum's NGOSS eTOM and SID solutions and models to design and implement the fundamental building blocks of a multi-vendor, multi-technology Common Element Management System. William F. Wilbert provides key insights on the implementation process, its challenges, and the outcomes of creating an efficient, effective, scalable, standards-based solution for managing one of the largest and most complex multi-vendor networks in the world
It held the potential for disaster. But fortunately they saw it coming, says Robert Ormsby, Director, Network Management Laboratory, at Verizon Telecom, remembering the days before Verizon and MCI merged. “We realized that unless we took action, our infrastructure could not continue to support the new services we wanted to provide. In fact, the burden of managing the network was threatening to undermine our business model.”
A top North American inter-exchange carrier (IXC), Verizon operates one of the largest communications networks in the world with an optical networking infrastructure that spans close to 100,000 miles and more than 4,000 Points of Presence (POPs). Verizon’s network currently offers high availability, plus a wide array of next-generation features. The company’s network is now a key differentiator. But this was not always the case.
Prior to the merger with MCI, the carrier found that the effort to maintain legacy systems – hardware, element management systems (EMSs), licensing, testing and training – were steadily rising and eating away at profits. For example, the cost of introducing a single EMS exceeded $1 million (for hardware, training, and updating methods of procedure) and also required hefty licensing, integration and ongoing maintenance fees.
OSS/BSS: a fine mess
The technology challenges facing the telecommunications industry can be summed up in a single word: complexity. Carriers operate their businesses on a complicated mix of systems and networks known as operating and business support systems (OSS/BSS). Everything runs on hardware from a variety of network equipment providers (NEPs) whose boxes come with their own proprietary systems and communications protocols. Some, but scarcely all, boxes come with element management systems (EMSs).
With varying amounts of integration work, EMSs help pull multi-vendor devices into one functioning network. EMSs tend not to be open, secure, or scalable, so a lot of extra work has to be done to make them function. “OSS/BSS integration can be a nightmare because everything has to be interfaced to everything else,” Ormsby says. “In most cases there is no standard information model to help build a searchable database, and this causes a huge stumbling block to network efficiency and reliability.”
Since the EMS layer does little to hide network complexity, many manual processes are required to fill in the gaps. To provide a single new service across multi-vendor, multi-domain (optical, Ethernet, IP/MPLS) systems requires stitching together a tangled web of networks and applications – literally spanning hundreds or thousands of network nodes utilizing many different software interfaces. Often, each device has to be manually interfaced into the network. Adding a new device type or application to the mix typically requires upgrading both hardware and software across the entire telecom network system – not an easy task considering that many of today’s new services and networks are built with a complex mix of products.
“Telecom operators deploying equipment from many different vendors face the challenges of integrating multiple EMSs into their OSS systems and training staff in each different EMS,” says Peter Mottishaw, senior analyst with independent analyst firm OSS Observer. “Many Equipment Providers deliver capable element management systems, but despite the efforts of telecom standards bodies there is still patchy support for standard northbound interfaces. This drives up integration costs. A further issue is that some equipment vendors do not deliver EMSs that meet the full set of operator requirements. EMS development is costly and complex and equipment vendors focused on getting new products to market sometimes under-invest in this area.”
Untangling the web: keep it simple
Almost all telecom services providers say they want to reduce the number of OSS vendors and products they have to manage. As they see it, their vendors – independent software vendors (ISVs) and network equipment providers (NEPs) – alike should simplify their product portfolios and move toward standardized offerings that have the potential to support plug-and-play environments that minimize network and application integration. Many are hoping that standardized Service Delivery Platforms (SDPs) will allow them to rapidly rollout new services on increasingly converged next generation networks, with high reliability and significantly lower costs.
SDPs rely on OSS/BSS systems underneath them, which in turn interface to the network elements (NEs) through element management systems (EMSs). Yet a fundamental disconnect persists between the NE and OSS layers of the network – a problem that has become costly and complex because of the continuous and inexorable technology changes taking place at both levels.
As NEs change so does the OSS/BSS interface layer, which may have a ripple effect on the overlying services. If carriers wish to implement new OSS/BSS applications, these interfaces must be rebuilt and tested against both the SDP and to the underlying EMS layer. An architecture that considers all these elements is critical if a sustained advantage is to be held in the market. Rapid innovations made in network element technologies have to be constantly linked with new operational support systems (OSS) above them. The problem only worsens in proportion as the number of OSS and network technologies grows.
Thinking there had to be a technical solution for a technical problem, Verizon/MCI teamed with Nakina systems of Ottawa, Canada to help develop and implement a new kind of integration solution called a Network Operating System (NOS). A whole new animal, a NOS essentially combines the capabilities of an EMS and an NMS (Network Management System) for multi-vendor, multi-technology networks, with a carrier grade scalable and secure architecture built using open, standards-based interfaces.
“Our vision for a NOS is to provide a single management solution that discovers, secures, configures and manages any vendor’s networking products,” says Nakina Systems Chairman and CEO, Marco Pagani. “In essence, it is a universal network adaptation, abstraction and mediation layer that provides a single point of integration between the actual network elements themselves and higher-level management, OSS and BSS applications.”
The Nakina solution provides carrier-grade performance and scalability that spans both legacy and next-generation equipment across multiple domains and OSI layers – including SONET, SDH and WDM optical equipment, Ethernet switches, IP/MPLS routers, video switches, and service routers and wireless equipment, among others. Unlike a traditional EMS, which essentially provides an interface or API for a specific network element type; a NOS provides a stable environment and single point of integration that abstracts the network complexity and disengages it from direct integration with the upper layer OSS/BSS in the same way that the operating system on a PC separates the hardware from its applications.
This mediation and abstraction function allows higher-level applications or services to be developed independently while simultaneously enabling new network equipment to be introduced and updated beneath it – while ensuring that the entire system still functions together like clockwork. A universal mediation layer helps service providers roll out their next-generation services and network infrastructure much faster in multi-vendor build-outs such as residential broadband, triple play, IPTV, Carrier Ethernet and wireless backhaul applications.
NOS in Action: the Verizon CEMS solution
In 2005, Verizon Business (formerly MCI) set out to build a state-of-the-art ultra-long-haul transport network and a converged packet access network initially comprised of over twenty different types of equipment from ten different vendors. With new technologies being introduced routinely and an already overloaded operations staff, Verizon was looking for what they termed a “Common Element Management System” (CEMS) as a solution to manage both these new networks. The goal was that CEMS would reduce operating expenses by limiting the growth of single-vendor EMSs, providing centralized operations control and simplifying the integration of new devices into their existing back office systems.
Verizon’s initial pilot project for the production CEMS solution was to upgrade functionality across a 40-node segment of the optical network without compromising network availability. The roll-out, which spanned two major metropolitan cities in the southwestern U.S. and covered approximately 650 miles (1,045 kilometers), would not only deliver new features and products to customers, it would also result in a more self-sustaining and secure network with fewer outages.
Verizon worked closely with Nakina Systems, using the company’s network OS product as the CEMS solution. The entire audit and software upgrade process was accomplished remotely in less than two hours. To the surprise and satisfaction of the operations personnel, this was a dramatic improvement over the 40-hour, week-long, on-site effort that Verizon had originally anticipated. Verizon was also able to leverage the new features available in the new software load a full week ahead of schedule, reducing its time-to-new-service revenue. As it turned out, the CEMS solution held significant implications for the future in its potential to reduce costs and manage thousands of nodes across both networks.
Based on the success of the pilot project, Verizon Business has since expanded the use of Nakina across many of its vendors, with payback being achieved simply on cost avoidance of single-vendor EMSs. Overall, approximately $1M to $1.5M savings have been achieved per EMS in addition to real dollar savings that have been made in OPEX due to consistent, reliable operations.
The CEMS solution has now been in production for over two years providing Verizon the benefits of a single point of integration and a consistent set of procedures and interfaces for all their network element types. In addition, the service provider has also noted the following substantial CEMS benefits that help drive new revenues while making the network more efficient:
• Simplifies and accelerates the introduction of new services
• Lowers the cost and enables rapid integration of new systems into higher level OSS/BSS systems
• Provides one set of methods, applications, and interfaces that apply to all vendors
• Enables cost-efficient training, due to common procedures
Ace in the Hole: industry standards
Until recently, the idea of a Network Operating System was looked upon with some skepticism. Who, for example, would assume the burden of building and continuously updating “adapters” (or device drivers) so that the NOS could continue to talk to each box on the network?
“When we first started talking about the idea of a network OS, there were more than a few doubters, but that has turned around,” says Mr. Pagani. “Now many people think that a universal mediation layer will emerge naturally as more and more carriers put pressure on equipment vendors to provide standard interfaces and adapters as an integrated part of the product, just as PC peripherals manufacturers provide drivers as a standard part of their product. Nakina frequently gets request from NEPs for our Software Development Kit (SDK) so they can build their own adapters.”
As the most effective way of transcending a mix of proprietary products from NEPs, the Nakina Network OS solution was designed from the beginning to have an open and modular software architecture. It adheres to the TeleManagement Forum’s New Generation OSS (GNOSS) standards. With an open architecture approach “adapters” can be implemented at run time. These adapters are hot deployable and their development time is measured in days or weeks rather than the months or even years required to build a carrier-grade EMS.
Nakina is also forging partnerships and alliances with equipment vendors such as ANDA Networks and LSI, and System Integrators (SIs) such as HP. “These companies realize that there is a tremendous benefit to creating a standards-based common environment that makes it easy to manage and upgrade all devices on the network,” says Mary O’Neill, Vice President of Market Development at Nakina Systems. “A multi-vendor ecosystem will equally benefit carriers, NEPs, ISVs and SIs.”
With a NOS in place, a service provider is far better equipped to retain and build a differentiated service offering in the market and will be ready for their move beyond Quad Play, keeping services affordable over time.
“Nakina’s Network OS solution is a comprehensive EMS platform that has been proved out with deployments with tier-1 customers,” says OSS Observer’s Peter Mottishaw. “It provides the scalability and security requirements required for a carrier-class EMS. Operators struggling with multi-vendor equipment environments and deficiencies in existing EMS should consider the platform as an alternative approach to purchasing EMS from equipment manufacturers. Network equipment manufacturers who cannot support large-scale EMS platform development should also consider the Nakina Network OS as a potential common platform.”
William F. Wilbert has written for technology publications for more than 15 years
For more information, visit www.nakinasystems.com