ABI Research Executive Summary: Orchestration and Automation for Telecom Networks

Spotlight on ABI Research Senior Analyst Don Alusha’s new Technology Analysis Report, “Orchestration and Automation for Telecom Networks,” Published October 10, 2018.

The telecommunications industry is undergoing a rapid transformation. The current mode of operation whereby services are delivered atop an integration of hardware, software, applications, and data is resource intensive. Further, it is not capable of being pieced together and retired on demand as necessitated by scalable digital services in dynamic environments. If telcos want to unlock the value of existing rigid assets, the ability to collect and interpret streams of data remains critical. Equally important is assembling intelligent networks that cast the point-to-point connections or isolated architectures in favor of applications that can be “plugged” into the network.

A distributed service mesh, an eventual outcome of an evolving telco digital ecosystem, gives rise to an interwoven web of networking systems that places new demands on orchestration, i.e., the automated arrangement and coordination of the connectivity, the resources that support it, and the digital services that surface at the top of the hierarchy. The rise of digital services—built on a foundation of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), virtualization, and the cloud—is changing the way telcos view applications and the way they blend enterprise Information Technology (IT) into their assets, spanning transport, radio and Business Support System (BSS)/Operations Support System (OSS) domains. Further, telco composability requires a mode of operation that connects, reconnects, and uses computational resources that are not necessarily bound to a fixed location.

A nimble way of transacting business is eventually going to set the clock speed for telcos, in turn mandating a departure from the heavyweight, top-down implementations typical of current systems not apt for the agility that today’s digital transformation initiatives demand. At one end, of course, are legacy orchestration systems, which will continue to present a challenge to the composable telco. At the other, there is the cloud, virtualization, and containers, technologies that are encroaching steadily into operators’ operations. Rip and replace may not be the best option from a Return on Investment (ROI) perspective, so a compromise between the two may be required. Open-source platforms are gaining momentum in the industry and serving as a bridge between the two worlds of legacy and virtualized environments.

Open-source orchestration stacks (e.g., the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP) and the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI) Open Source Mano (OSM)) provide telcos with the agility and innovations associated with the Internet world. This also propels the collective industry vision toward new business models and new revenue streams. However, an aspect that warrants discussion is the issue of software support. There is no doubt that open source is encroaching into telco, but in the short to medium term, operators should be ready to face a scenario where vendors’ support and their proprietary technology are still of paramount importance to their operations. Open-source orchestration platforms are not going to replace proprietary products any time soon, but they will slowly change how the latter are being monetized and deployed in an ecosystem increasingly characterized by openness and disintegration.

Going forward, there are two possible options to shape orchestration architectures: 1) institute a universal and unified architecture that supplants the single-layer model with logic that considers orchestration holistically rather than in a piece-meal fashion, an undertaking that may not be possible given the fragmented telco ecosystem; and 2) the most likely scenario is to implement automation at each layer of the stack (transport/resource, BSS/OSS, service layer) and fully integrate from top to bottom, exposing the combination of legacy and digital assets as APIs. APIs are viewed as the linchpin of a modern approach to a multi-layered orchestration that tracks data from digital services (e.g., the web apps, dashboards, and analytics) and monitors interaction and dependencies between applications, resources, and connectivity mediums.

The orchestration concept is widely seen in the industry as the pillar for intelligent automation, arrangement, and coordination of complex networking elements, services, and resources. The continuing evolution of telco networks has led to heterogeneous environments where the “old” technology must coexist with the “new.” Orchestration solutions in the market have advanced considerably from legacy management systems, however, the latter still plays a key role in the telco’s network service provisioning. A cohesive software suite for orchestration and network automation should eventually harmonize legacy mechanisms with emerging cloud-native architectures; for example, Amdocs is one among many other vendors in the market strongly positioned to address this space.

In this report, “Orchestration and Automation for Telcom Networks,” ABI Research provides detailed insight into different orchestration layers in the telco ecosystem and it discusses the control elements and associated enabling technologies in the context of a diverse telco infrastructure with disparate siloed applications. Other topics discussed in this report include pertinent open source activities in the market, commercial applications of orchestration products and how they are expected to be re-designed to fit the rapidly changing telco landscape. The report also includes profiles of vendors such as Ciena, Cisco, and NEC/Netcracker, a few among many market players intent to help telcos navigate their transition to cloud-native computing.

Interested in the full report? Visit ABI Research Reports