How service assurance investments are changing the game

As service providers worldwide engage with a new set of competitors, face a challenging economy and attempt to master intensifying network and service complexity, they face service assurance challenges beyond any that most have ever experienced. What will ultimately differentiate one provider from another is not the network itself, but the service. Specifically, the quality of the service and the quality of the customer experience when using it and the network is only the beginning.

In today’s environment, service quality is defined by the ability of a customer to access and use applications regardless of infrastructure, device or location. Although Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and the deployment of virtual network functions (VNFs) is a network technology that enables broader service offerings, we’re still talking about the network. And know this; the unique capabilities and operating parameters of NFV and the many differences between it and what is currently deployed mean nothing to customers.

Fundamentally, service assurance is responsible for the integrity, performance and quality of a customer connection regardless of network, service or application. The explosion of assurance data related to network, service and customer quality is already making assurance difficult. Adding virtualization with sophisticated configuration rules, dynamic handoffs and integrations only increases the difficulty and confusion associated with finding and fixing problems.

Seeing through the layers of virtualization

Service providers are recognizing that Service Assurance involves more than monitoring alarms. While that task alone has become infinitely more complex and difficult with the addition of VNFs and software-defined networking (SDN), service assurance extends well beyond the network elements to include IT elements, applications and distributed customer, partner and service data.

Peering through layers of virtualization takes time and using a sequential approach to polling elements for management data is no longer valid. Monitoring and managing hybrid infrastructure made up of legacy and virtual network elements requires a new approach to minimize service downtime, ensure performance quality and deliver a consistent yet transparent customer experience.

Not just correlation – convergence

The increasing complexity of networks and data centers combined with the critical nature of many applications means that service providers and IT managers require a converged approach to service assurance that delivers an end-to-end view of the customer experience rather than a compilation of disparate performance puzzle pieces.

While the network is an excellent source of performance information, intelligence must be applied to understand which components of the service chain are critical to ensuring service quality and meet service level agreements (SLAs). Separate element and network management silos, data center management silos and performance management silos prevent operations personnel and OSS/BSS solutions from rapidly correlating and evaluating performance of applications across the network and measuring customer experience. To create that kind of visibility requires a knowledge of application performance aligned with each customer and connection.

Adding automation

Many fault conditions could be addressed by pre-programmed automated responses based on real-time analytics. Zero-touch operations and automation are still being refined and will take time to become trusted and accepted. As a result, service assurance will continue to require significant manual intervention. Tools that provide guidance based on analytics and system intelligence can support fault analysis that enhances the current reactive capabilities. Those features can then be gradually enhanced and migrated to fully automated maintenance capabilities.

The next stage in service assurance is automating the detection and correction of issues through the application of dynamic business intelligence. NFV and SDN will accelerate the migration from manual monitoring to the implementation of automated intelligence and analytics that learn about changing conditions and respond with orchestrated optimization and remediation of the network.

Intelligence reveals metrics that matter

Delay, packet loss, throughput and the myriad of performance metrics are valuable measures of network performance. Yet understanding application performance as it relates to the customer experience takes more. Sorting out performance from the customer’s point-of-view requires correlation of a variety of metrics and indicators from a wide variety of data sources.

Effective alarm correlation requires that all of the necessary events and metrics are analyzed to determine the source of a problem and identify the best way to quickly recover from that fault. Service providers are implementing tools that are more proactive and able to apply analysis of customer and network data to rapidly understand performance and quality issues.  Smart filters and intelligent analysis based on both current and historical information accelerates the identification and resolution of problems.

Service assurance isn’t an afterthought

NFV and SDN promise a host of new service capabilities – and with that comes an expanded set of service assurance requirements. All network elements and service definitions have to be managed from a single solution and as thousands of new virtual elements are added, it is important to deploy service assurance that has visibility into all of the end-to-end and hierarchical service definitions, not just network elements. In the context of the complete network infrastructure, VNFs represent only a portion of the assets assigned to any given service or customer configuration.

Without proper monitoring and management, the physical and virtual assets that make up a service cannot be tracked, resulting in services that are either overbuilt or underperforming. By exploiting the depth and breadth of data available, service providers are able understand and improve service quality. Innovative service assurance solutions enable service providers to capture and analyze assurance data coming from the network to understand service impact and deliver a consistently high quality customer experience.

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