Network management beyond legacy networks

Aug. 1, 2002
SPECIAL REPORTS: Optical Networking & WDM

The growing dominance of optical technologies like DWDM is pushing legacy inventory solutions to their breaking point.


The halcyon days of aggressive network expansions are in the past. As we move forward, one thing is certain, carriers will need to change the way they run their businesses if they wish to succeed. Falling bandwidth prices and lower revenue require major cutbacks in operational and capital expenditures. New network deployments will be conservative at best and will require detailed business and financial justifications.

Despite these constraints, many carriers continue to deploy complex technologies in new configurations (mesh) to provide an exponential increase in available capacity over existing facilities. Although implementing technologies like DWDM increases available capacity, it also increases the need for the carrier to efficiently manage its resources.

The practice of managing inventory using legacy or semi-manual data stores such as spreadsheets or homegrown databases cannot efficiently support these complex technologies. Even mammoth trunk integrated recordkeeping systems used by the former RBOCs are unable to adequately manage next-generation optical networks. Supporting complex equipment configuration models and service and transport layers as well as dynamic protection systems is a core requirement for an inventory solution. A central repository that manages the physical inventory, configuration, and service management is the smart and logical path to achieving operational efficiency.

A service resource management (SRM) system creates an information hub across all technologies, systems, and departments that support a carrier's optical network. By functioning as a complete inventory operational support system (OSS), an SRM system gives carriers the ability to understand where their assets lie to optimize usage. Assets can be physical (like a piece of equipment) or logical (like an IP address or a frequency allocation).

Heart and brains of the OSSA proper SRM uses an open architecture, allowing other OSSs to gain access to the valuable information stored with a wide variety of access methods, from SQL database queries to more sophisticated queries via documented application programming interfaces (APIs) or enterprise application interface (EAI) adapters. The SRM system stores the image of the network "as designed," but it may differ from that of the network "as built." In fact, without specialized methods that allow network configuration information to be dumped directly from the equipment and reconciled with the SRM database, 80% data purity is a stretch, 60% is the norm. With good synchronization methods, over 95% accuracy is achievable.
A service resource management system serves as the information hub across the enterprise.

Next-generation optical networks require sophisticated management tools that were not necessary in legacy networks. Optical carriers have experienced much pain over the last decade as they attempted to manage provisioning, service-level agreements (SLAs), and technology from multiple vendors. Next-generation optical networks will use many technologies in multiple segments of the network, from the last mile to metropolitan SONET rings to ultra-long-haul DWDM. As such, most carriers will rely on several optical equipment manufacturers. Therefore, different network management and service provisioning systems will be used for different technologies. This multivendor, multitechnology environment makes minimal-touch provisioning almost unattainable.

SRM is the glue that enables engineers to assign new services across multiplatform optical networks. As the central data repository for the entire network image, SRM provides reconciliation of active and logical network elements from multiple optical vendors, while maintaining views of passive and not-yet-deployed resources.

Various SLA reporting systems, performance management systems, and network management systems (NMSs) enable the central repository to capture an overall view of the network's status and service performance. The results from these systems are used to design and assign new services. The repository also serves as a central data hub for SLA reporting.

Optical engineers face requirements that often exceed the capabilities of legacy inventory solutions such as network capacity planning, new deployments, and service provisioning in a heterogeneous environment. With an SRM system, engineers can plan or create "what if" scenarios without affecting the current network configuration. When the new configuration is completed, the SRM system can manage the deployment tasks while enforcing the carrier's methods and procedures.

For many large carriers, service provisioning on a heterogeneous network is very difficult. While there may be many reasons for this difficulty, often one NMS is not aware of other NMSs in the network. When an engineer is designing a service path that encompasses multiple NMSs, he is unable to use the NMSs for the design process. SRM provides a complete network image for the assign/design process that can be partitioned for each NMS during service activation.

SRM also enables forward planning for new services or network expansion by allowing engineers to view multiple network and service design options. These designs can be overlaid on the existing network image without affecting active data or operations.

With the increased capacity that DWDM enables, performance management is critical. SRM provides a central repository for all quality of service and SLA ratings on services and their associated resources. These ratings can have a weighted effect on the design/assign processes.

The rate of change in the network often outpaces a carrier's ability to recover network resources that are no longer used, or to streamline those in high demand. An SRM system provides carriers with a simple solution for gathering and analyzing data on network-resource use.

Faster provisioning
SRM allows for faster provisioning of new network capacity (bandwidth) by providing an accurate method of tracking and sharing information about the status of work orders as they pass through the various stages of capacity planning, resource allocation, resource configuration, and service activation. SRM also enables more efficient deployment of new services by providing network configuration information to service engineers and service configurations to network engineers.

The selection of network resources and the decision to direct those resources to specific network configurations is a technical process crucial to service delivery. By centralizing all of the network information, which includes both on-net and off-net resources, SRM allows carriers to see the full capacity of their networks, which makes the design and assign function more accurate and predictable.

SRM also provides carriers with a means of managing engineering workflow. Orders can be prioritized and job status information can be passed efficiently within engineering areas. SRM increases productivity and minimizes errors by consistently updating job status, thereby providing faster and less costly delivery of services.

Field engineers need to know the location and configuration of network equipment to efficiently do their installation or repair work. SRM systems make that information easily accessible to them. SRM systems can also enforce business rules with work-order management.

Chief operating officers focus on the carriers' day-to-day operations and strive for operational efficiency. DWDM is at the core of most carriers' networks, and its impact to their operations can be severe. SRM can enable central control of data throughout the enterprise by providing resource allocation reports of both on-net and off-net resources.

Chief financial officers (CFOs) are concerned about the depreciation cycles of the equipment and the utilization of the network-information that is readily accessible from the SRM system via standard reports. CFOs are especially concerned about the costs associated with the leased lines purchased from local wireline providers. Audits of the SRM database of leased facilities against the bills received from off-net providers often can uncover several millions of dollars of incorrect charging in this area.

Network operations center (NOC) personnel need access to a complete network image, especially to identify and contact the providers of facilities that are out of service or not meeting their performance guarantees. Since SRM manages the entire network and all the services traversing the network, the NOC is able to correlate all network outages with all services affected. This information is readily accessible from the SRM system via easy-to-use Web interfaces, often reducing by several hours the time required to sectionalize, diagnose, and refer the problems.

Good data = smart decisions
The investment community, which prides itself on knowing where every penny is located and spent, will not tolerate 60% inventory accuracy. SRM systems enable network managers to have a complete view of their optical network, including how each fiber is allocated, so that they may rapidly and efficiently assign new services. SRM systems also help managers achieve fiber hyperefficiency by oversubscribing a fiber's capacity, enabling carriers to squeeze as much value as possible out of the network without suffering network degradation.

Next-generation inventory solutions like SRM support all aspects of optical networks, from the lowest physical layer to the highest service layer. SRM consolidates physical inventory, logical inventory, and configuration and service management by providing a complete network image in a central repository that is available to the entire enterprise.

Most SRM solutions are not development environments or toolkits but rather market-ready solutions that are technology-agnostic. Large incumbents can leverage an SRM solution by migrating from their legacy systems one department, technology, or service offering at a time.

Dr. Mark Mortensen is chief marketing officer and Anthony M. Williams is marketing director of the optical segment for Granite Systems Inc. (Manchester, NH).