Every so often, a new paradigm shift emerges in the telecommunications industry amid a sea of competing “acronyms of the day”. The last such major shift was introduction, followed by widespread adoption, of OAM technologies that finally brought robust, assured Carrier Ethernet services into the mainstream. It took several years before initial recommendations made by MEF evolved into widely-adopted standards driven by organizations such as ITU.T and IEEE. It took several years more before different vendors’ implementations became truly interoperable and operators finally were able to effectively deploy these technologies and begin reaping the benefits.
Recently, like OAM a decade ago, a new shift appears to be taking hold in the industry. While much noise has been made about SDN and NFV in recent years, appeal of these technologies and associated benefits, such as improved operational efficiency and CAPEX reductions driven by virtualization, have so far been limited to mostly the larger service providers. A number of these larger carriers recognized the potential benefits that dynamic, automated, user-managed services implemented on top of a next generation programmable network could bring. They were some of the earliest adopters of these technologies and if the rate of expansion of associated new service offerings beyond the initial trial markets into the rest of their networks is any indication – the benefits quickly went from “potential” to “why didn’t we do this sooner?”
While effective, these early efforts were nevertheless proprietary in nature and required a significant amount of expertise as well as resources to implement. The larger providers could afford and justify the investment required to realize the benefits, which could further be optimized by the sheer scale of their networks and customer bases. Unfortunately, the complexity involved with such proprietary implementations starts to negatively affect the cost vs. benefit ratio for service providers whose networks are smaller and whose levels of in-house expertise with these next generation technologies often range from limited to non-existent. At the same time, as the new breed of agile, dynamic services being rolled out by the larger operators becomes more widespread, the customer bases that these operators share with their smaller competitors will, in turn, grow increasingly more sophisticated. These customers will inevitably start demanding similar types of services from the smaller operators as well. It may not happen overnight, but the trend has already started and over the next year and a half or so, the demand will only keep growing.
This brings up an obvious set of challenges for the smaller service provider market – how to integrate the new technologies into their networks and begin delivering the new breed of dynamic services to their customers, while at the same time remaining competitive with their larger counterparts and keeping their companies solvent in the process. These challenges are precisely why the concept of unified, standards-based orchestration of the service lifecycle, or Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) as MEF defines it, is becoming increasingly exciting. It wasn’t until the concept of LSO started emerging over the past couple of years that the benefits of SDN and NFV-enabled networking and associated next generation, dynamic, “Third Network” style services that utilize these technologies truly started becoming appealing to service providers across the telecommunications spectrum.
The promise of open interfaces utilizing industry-standard Yang models for interactions between components responsible for orchestration of services in a provider’s network (and eventually between multiple operators as well) means that as these interfaces are defined, vendors and open source communities alike will be able to start offering new solutions based on those interfaces. In fact, we are already starting to see early implementations become available. These solutions will in turn enable implementation of next generation networks and services in a fashion that is considerably more streamlined, cost-effective, and not nearly as reliant on in-house expertise and resources as the early proprietary implementations were. Such service lifecycle automation enabled by LSO technologies will not only allow more operators to evolve their product offerings and remain competitive in the market, but at the same time will help them take advantage of the additional operational savings, significantly faster times to revenue that dynamic Carrier Ethernet services enable, and last but not least – improved quality of end-user experience and higher customer satisfaction.
This next paradigm shift has already started. The rapid pace of expansion of next generation services being offered by the larger carriers is already proving to be unprecedented in our industry. More and more vendors, such as MRV with their Pro-Vision service orchestration platform, as well as numerous others, are starting to develop and offer solutions that are based on the LSO framework being defined by the MEF. As LSO continues to mature and the standards-based building blocks become more commonplace, the investment required for smaller operators to start offering next generation dynamic services, both in terms of expertise and resources will be reduced significantly, enabling them to join the fray. And just like OAM technologies that enabled carrier-grade Ethernet services to finally become commonplace, LSO will help drive the next generation of these services to true mainstream adoption over the coming few years.