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ACG Research has just published a report on service provider directions in network automation, summarizing the results of a recent primary research project. ACG independently conducted this research, sponsored by Infinera, to identify the challenges, drivers, and opportunities in transport network automation. While I strongly encourage you to read the entire report, I am highlighting my six favorite findings in this blog.
With the launch of 5G services and an increasing interest in and adoption of disaggregated and open networking solutions, it is only natural for network automation to come under the spotlight. On one hand, network operators are starting to offer a series of 5G service types with diverse requirements, such as high bandwidth, low latency, ultra-reliability, and massive connectivity. On the other hand, open, potentially heterogeneous networks pose some management challenges. Increased network automation, down to the transport layer, can play a critical role in offloading the complexity that these new paradigms bring to the network and its operation.
- Network automation is a vibrant, high-value investment area.
Automation of service provider networks proves to be an area of active investment across all the regions of the world, with an expected compound annual growth rate of around 20% over the next five years.
- Customer satisfaction and business agility are the driving forces of automation.
While CapEx and OpEx savings are certainly expected when implementing network automation solutions, this survey shows that service providers are, above all, looking at network automation as a means to achieve superior customer satisfaction and improve business agility.
Figure 1: Benefits from enhanced network automation (source: ACG Research)
Network automation can boost customer satisfaction by enabling service requests to be fulfilled faster, supporting better compliance to service level agreements, and facilitating faster problem resolution, while business agility is enabled by the revenue acceleration brought on by quickly delivering new and more services.
As network equipment increasingly implements common data models such as OpenConfig or OpenROADM, open and standard interfaces such as NETCONF/ YANG, and mechanisms such as streaming telemetry, the network becomes more flexible and its control more uniform and therefore easier to automate. This enables network automation initiatives to extend beyond pure configuration and provisioning applications. Complemented by continuous monitoring information from a host of network parameters and devices, automation applications can evolve into recommendation systems and closed loop mechanisms, bringing intent-based networking to life.
- Operators are starting small but targeting fast returns.
The survey also reveals that, despite the promising benefits of network automation, operators find it hard to articulate a business case for some of the solutions, potentially limiting their adoption. In fact, not only are operators looking for vendors’ support to quantify the value of network automation, they also want vendors to advise them on what to automate. Operators want help identifying those low-complexity tasks that are performed often in the network, manually or with limited scripting, which can be automated with lower risk, setting the building blocks in place for larger tasks while still providing a fair return on investment.
The next natural step is the integration of analytics and machine learning, supporting the collection and processing of large amounts of data and enabling proactive decisions on when and how to act in the network in an autonomous manner.
- The fundamentals cannot be overlooked.
Many operators start the network automation journey with use cases related to network deployment, extending the investment into network operations in a second step. But this survey pinpoints an awareness that, as network complexity and emerging services scale, network planning and design will also greatly benefit from automation. More than 85% of the respondents in the survey considered the network planning and design area as significant or most significant in contributing to the benefits of automation.Network planning and design tasks, such as designing new infrastructure for 5G, cable, or broadband access; identifying needed resources for upcoming capacity demands in an existing network; creating work orders; ordering equipment; etc., which are performed prior to service provisioning, have been handled as silos and often given lower priority by operators, but this is predicted to change, with an increase in the corresponding investment by network operators.
- It’s all about a strong partnership.
Network operators and vendors alike understand that planning, deployment, and operation processes vary considerably from one company to another. Different network automation requirements can be implemented on a common platform (preferably one that is standards-based and modular), but some software adaptation, integration, and customization will always be required. It is refreshing to see in the survey results that operators recognize the need for their own involvement in these activities – only 9% foresee turnkey products – and expect to partner with their equipment vendors to achieve successful deployments.
To conclude the survey on network software and automation on a lighter, humorous note, ACG Research asked the respondents which animal would best represent how they will feel once their company’s automation journey has been successfully accomplished. The two most selected animals, in a tie, were the cheetah and the falcon. When asked to justify their selection, respondents cited speed and accuracy. Infinera’s network automation solutions, complemented by our global services and support, are the right choice to help your network go as fast as a cheetah and as accurately as a falcon!
- The right expertise is needed in each domain.
While the survey shows that virtually all operators recognize the value of industry standards for communication between network elements and management applications, it is interesting to note that there is a preference within the operators for infrastructure vendors to focus on supporting their own equipment, where they are the ultimate experts and their specific know-how makes the difference. After all, domain automation is the base for more extensive automation solutions to build on.
Download the full ACG report.