Comprehensive and real-time network inventory is a must if SDN, NFV and 5G are to realize their full potential

 

Network resource management and inventory systems tend not to grab the headlines as forward-thinking telcos plan their digital transformation strategies. Software‑defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are much more likely to be in the spotlight. SDN and NFV are all about launching new services quickly and optimizing network assets, which is exactly what the digital telco wants.  

 

Empowering customers through self‑service portals, and a desire for under-the-hood automation in the provision and maintenance of services, is why the concept of an intent-driven network (IDN) is gaining industry attention. IDNs allow operations staff, with the help of SDN, to easily programme the network to run a series of tasks without human intervention. This might include service deployment and predictive operations & maintenance (O&M) — fixing problems before they impact customers. Greater automation is vital if operational expenditure is not to spiral out of control as network complexity increases. This will inevitably happen when more network elements are introduced to support 5G.   

 

As good as all this sounds, the promised business‑case benefits of SDN, NFV and IDN, along with 5G, will not be fully realized if there are back-office bottlenecks. Any inventory system worth its salt will need to provide real-time records and visibility of all network assets — through the physical, IP, and service layers — and across different silos and domains (mobile, broadband and enterprise). Communication with network monitoring systems (NMS) from different vendors is therefore essential. Only then is accurate modelling of the entire network possible, and operations staff get the highly-prized holistic view.   

 

Better still if the network inventory system has in-built workflows that can help with predictive O&M and service verification. Service fulfilment and assurance, and making sure performance parameters stick to service level agreements (SLAs), are a must to keep enterprise customers happy.

Network inventory might not be box-office, unlike SDN and NFV, but without a fully‑equipped operations support systems and business support systems (OSS/BSS) that can keep pace with the fast-moving world of virtualization — where physical and virtual network resources are allocated on‑the‑fly to meet dynamic changes in capacity demand — telco hopes of genuine digital transformation will be dashed. A clunky OSS/BSS, without real-time network inventory, will slow down service provisioning and make service assurance more difficult. NFV and SDN might well be able to spin up services and capacity immediately where it is required, but that assumes the OSS/BSS can allocate available network resources just as quickly.

 

Making the most out of 5G will also depend on some clever network‑resource management. One of the most promising 5G use cases is dedicated networks for enterprises and specific industry verticals. By using ‘network slicing’, a unique 5G capability, businesses can effectively enjoy a private mobile network and telcos are able to charge SLA premiums — but only if they play their OSS/BSS and network inventory cards right.

 

Break the back-office bottleneck

There is no need for ambitious telcos to be hamstrung by back-office software ill‑equipped for digital transformation. SunVizion Network Inventory, developed by OSS/BSS specialist Suntech, specifically addresses the typical shortcomings of traditional network inventory systems — namely lack of a real-time and holistic view of the network, and the need for highly‑skilled software specialists.

Telcos, in growing numbers, are opting for this solution to make their back offices fit‑for-purpose. Not only to make service provisioning and monitoring much timelier and more cost-efficient, but also to better plan network buildout and maintenance.

 

As a comprehensive resource-management system, SunVizion Network Inventory naturally documents both physical and logical network resources. The physical network inventory integrates infrastructure information from inside and outside plant, ranging from room equipment (inside plant) to street cabinets and cable ducts (outside plant). There is also physical usage information (such as card distribution within shelves, and physical ports on network devices used by attached cables). Logical resources are network connectivity and network functions, such as firewalls or data filters. And by having a central repository of network inventory, across different domains — which is geographically represented on a highly accurate map — network planning is much easier. No need for cross-departmental and time­‑consuming consultation to gather all the necessary information on existing assets.

 

SunVizion Network Inventory is not simply about information storage. There are intelligent management capabilities that add value to the raw data, as well as in-built workflows to help telcos better navigate the path towards digital transformation. Operators flag the benefit of cross‑checking documentation on logical and physical resources, which can provide a more comprehensive and accurate view of network assets — essential if telcos are going to get the most out of SDN and NFV. If the logical connection does not have its physical counterpart, operators immediately know that data about the network have to be corrected or completed.

The in-built workflows that come with SunVizion Network Inventory can also spot the precise location of any network failure, and then kick‑off a series of processes to rectify the problem with minimum disruption to other services. Capacity bottlenecks can also be detected early (and fixed) without customers noticing.

 

Perhaps the most compelling feature of SunVizion Network Inventory is that the database is updated automatically almost the same time as new rollouts are implemented in the network. Telcos have peace of mind that the system can gather information from any NMS in the marketplace.

Genuine digital transformation depends on telcos having a deep understanding of their network assets.