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July 2015

Lifecycle Service Orchestration: Enterprise Ethernet & Cloud Exchange Meet OSS & SDN/NFV

Lifecycle Service Orchestration: Enterprise Ethernet & Cloud Exchange Meet OSS & SDN/NFV

Fortune Magazine to Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T:
What’s the most exciting thing happening in your industry right now?

Stephenson: You’re going to find this horribly boring, but it’s this concept called software-defined networks.  It’s about managing a massive global network the way you’d manage a cloud-based data center. . .

The ability to stand up and provision services in hours and not a month and a half is a big deal.  The ability to monitor your service on the fly as it suits your needs — it’s going to change how businesses operate.

              Fortune Magazine, June 15, 2015, the Fortune 500 Edition

If there was ever any doubt about the importance of SDN, provisioning, and assurance automation to telecom’s future, Stephenson’s remarks to Fortune put that issue to rest.

I’m sure Stephenson had a long list of sales pitches he could have delivered to America’s top business leaders, but the only two subjects he talked about were SDN and network capacity management.  Now that’s significant.  What’s more, the story appeared in Fortune’s most widely-read issue of the year: the Fortune 500 edition.

Now, to those of us who studied history, accounting, or philosophy in college, SDN and network virtualization are a bit intimidating at first glance.  But the basic concept behind SDN is merely to add a new management control for the network — and there’s a lot of precedent for that.

For instance, the NMS delivered a higher management plane than the EMS.  Then, when multi-vendor and multi-domain telecom took off, commercial OSSs emerged as the new layer for managing complexity above the NMSs and EMSs.  So SDN and lifecycle service orchestration merely takes us to the next plateau of network control, programmability and efficiency.

But understanding SDN at the 30,000 foot level doesn’t satisfy nearly as much as talking to a real expert on the subject.  I met one such expert at the ITW show in Chicago.  She’s Marie Fiala Timlin, Director of Marketing at CENX, a 150-employee firm out of Ottawa who’s emerged as an early leader on the “lifecycle service orchestration” side of SDN.

In fact, it was recently announced that Ericsson will integrate CENX’s Cortx Service Orchestrator as a key element of its global Managed Services Delivery Platform.  That’s major news considering Ericsson manages services for networks that serve over 1 billion subscribers worldwide.

In our discussion, Marie gets us up to speed on the evolution to virtual network environments, but also on service orchestration’s vital role in cloud exchanges, enterprise Ethernet, and mobile backhaul.

Dan Baker: Marie, if AT&T’s CEO is publicly pointing in your direction, that’s a very good sign.  What’s the significance of your “lifecycle service orchestration” thrust to this SDN movement?

Marie Fiala Timlin: Dan, SDN certainly offers great promise in reduced CAPEX and OPEX savings, but it also make operations more complex.  You need a layer of operations software that can interface with the new SDN/NFV elements so, as things change underneath at the infrastructure layer, you can pull in all those data feeds from all elements for unified operations, to bridge the gap and transition to this new SDN/NFV world.

At CENX, we started out as an Ethernet exchange company in 2009, but by 2012 we focused solely on delivering software that transforms the way that operators build and manage their data networking services.  Our mission is to become the DNA of agile telecom operations — our Cortx Service Orchestrator provides this critical Dynamic Network Analytics (DNA).  So we anticipated the market and now a lot of network equipment players and OSS vendors are jumping into the game.

It’s also gratifying to see the standards bodies supporting the concept.  We work closely with the MEF and ETSI to help define what this Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) component means and what the APIs should look like down to the NFV orchestrators and SDN controllers.

Services for the foreseeable future are going to be carried over traditional (NMS, EMS and OSS) infrastructure as well as the new SDN/NFV environment.  Services have to be managed across both types of network elements.

This is all very interesting, Marie, but if we could, let’s hold off for a moment on a deeper discussion of SDN because the simple fact is that current OSS systems out there struggle to keep up with the networks we have today.

It’s true.  There are serious shortcomings.  The current OSS tools give operators a good understanding of their network elements.  But where operators need help is seeing the service connectivity between one end point and the other, say from the enterprise to the data center.

The data from disparate OSS and management systems cannot be reconciled reliably.  The operators frankly don’t know what to trust.  Is it the inventory system?  The fault system?  Or what?  And how does this look in terms of network and service topology?

Yet we solve these problems.  Our Cortx Service Orchestrator software sits above OSSs and takes in their data — whether it’s an inventory, fault or performance system.  Or we even interface directly to EMSs or NMSs.  With that information, Cortx builds a unified service information model.  And when I say “service”, I mean a data connectivity service — for optical, Layer 2 Ethernet, and Layer 3 IP/MPLS networks.

And Cortx provides an intuitive GUI, so a network operations center (NOC) technician can quickly triage faults to the right segment of the path where the problem is occurring, because they can monitor the service end-to-end and drill down to the specific segment.

Our GUI visualizes the complete service topology and even has an easy-to-use search field that auto-completes as you type.  Imagine Google Search and Google Maps: we are bringing this capability into telecom operations.

Cortx Service Orchestrator
To view a larger image of the diagram above, click here.

What applications are driving improved assurance and provisioning today?

Anything that supports enterprise/business customers.  Those customers are not willing to wait weeks for reliable Ethernet connectivity between sites.  So our software automates that fulfillment process and gathers data from many systems, including test and measurement devices in the network, to continuously assure that connectivity service.

Another use case being driven by fast-expanding mobile networks is just-in-time capacity management.  To future proof their networks from bandwidth increases, operators generally build out three years in advance.  Our analytics and provisioning automation cuts that time down to about six months, and further reduction is only hampered by business processes and suppliers’ lead times.

Yet another key demand driver is in mobile backhaul.  In the U.S. market there are hundreds of access vendors who supply backhaul Ethernet connections from the cell tower to the aggregation point.  The issue for the operator is isolating faults in the access network and triaging problems as fast as possible.  If the issue is with the access vendor, you want to point your finger in the right direction.  Another objective is to limit the number of costly truck rolls the operator makes to the cell site.

Today CENX is deployed at two of the top four mobile operators in the US, and at one of them we have scaled the system to serve 50,000 cell sites.  In Europe, Ericsson has installed our software to manage NOC functions for many operators it serves.

What about cloud?  And since you are advertising here at the ITW show, the wholesale or interconnect market is obviously important to CENX too.

Yes, enterprises and carriers alike are hungry to expand their connectivity: that’s the reason why hundreds of neutral, high-performance data center exchanges are popping up around the world.

Now since 2013 we’ve managed the service orchestration needs of CoreSite, an exchange provider who serves eight key North American markets across 15 data centers, and serves more than 800 of the world’s leading enterprises, network operators, and cloud providers.

CoreSite has a service they brand as Open Cloud Exchange and our Cortx Service Orchestrator software is integral to that exchange.  We are fully integrated with their customer web portal and billing system so that CoreSite’s customers can do self-service.  So when an exchange tenant logs into their portal, they can say, “I’d like to connect to Amazon web services for my enterprise application” and get that connectivity immediately.

So Cortx automates the provisioning of these connections and does all the analytics regarding on-going measurement and monitoring of the cloud exchange.  We’ve basically taken provisioning time down from a matter of weeks to minutes — and that’s given CoreSite a big advantage in time-to-market.

OK, Marie, I cut you short on SDN before, but let’s get into that subject now if we could.  Just how radical is this evolution to SDN going to be for operators?

It is radical in terms of potential benefits.  But, if the deployment isn’t coupled with a strategy for hybrid network operations, those benefits may never be realized.  The critical point is that there’s no such thing as a flash cut.  There will always be some components on physical hardware — the Cisco routers of the world.  Yet many functions are already becoming virtualized as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) on COTS servers, for example, firewalls and packet gateways.  And a service can span these different types of network functions — physical or virtual.

As an overarching operations system, Cortx Service Orchestrator absolutely relies on underlying systems to communicate directly to the network functions to execute the service provisioning and assurance tasks.

Now in the NFV orchestrator space, Cortx interfaces with the likes of OpenStack to configure VNFs — allocating the CPU, storage, and the I/O.  So Cortx is a management layer on top, bringing an end-to-end view, but it doesn’t go too deep.  Configuration at the individual function level still occurs.

Where do operators need help in the areas of SDN and NFV?

I think the biggest challenge for them is figuring out what’s going on with the new components coming into play — the SDN controllers and NFV orchestrators.  How can I bring these new components into the mainstream of operations?  And that’s both on the service provisioning and service assurance sides.

Service providers still live in a swivel chair world.  They have multiple systems and each of them has its own unique interface and commands.  So operators really appreciate the idea of having an overarching framework that allows them to abstract the details of configuring and managing a particular VNF or physical network element through an NMS or EMS.

And having a single GUI dashboard becomes even more valuable now that SDN and NFV are here.  Just as a hybrid car still has a single dashboard for both the gas and electric engine, you need a single dashboard for your service management: you can’t have one dashboard for your legacy and another one for NFV.

Now new types of assurance come into play in these virtual networks.  What does the lifecycle service orchestrator need to do to keep up?

If you are virtualizing network functions, you still need to keep track of the services and their requirements.  That’s where lifecycle service orchestration comes into play.

In the NFV world, VNF managers perform the equivalent function of an EMS (as described in the ETSI reference architecture).  So our Cortx Service Orchestrator interfaces down to VNF Managers and Virtualised Infrastructure Managers (VIMs), such as OpenStack.

Let’s say that we are provisioning an Ethernet private line that requires a firewall and that firewall is virtualized.  Well, we’d say to OpenStack: create a firewall because we need to link it up as part of the service chain.  And Cortx’s single unified view gives the NOC technician a simple means of tracking the status of that network configuration, and monitoring the state of the service.

And then as components are virtualized and deployed, one needs to constantly keep track and ensure the VNF is still alive and fulfilling the needed function for the end-to-end service.  So in the NFV world, these are just a few of the issues our software needs to stay on top of.

Marie, thanks for this highly interesting tutorial on lifecycle service orchestration and SDN.  And congratulations on CENX’s expanded relationship with Ericsson.

Copyright 2015 Telexchange Journal


About the Expert

Marie Fiala Timlin

Marie Fiala Timlin

Marie is Director of Marketing at CENX and leads the firm’s strategy in marketing Service Orchestration solutions worldwide.  Her commitment to translating technology into business value stems from 25 years of experience in the telecom industry, in senior management roles driving product development and strategic planning.

Before joining CENX, Marie was AVP of Product Marketing and Communications at network policy control vendor Sandvine.  Previously, she led Femtocell and wireless infrastructure programs at Airvana during its IPO, and managed mobile broadband, data networking, and carrier-grade voice switching development at Nortel Networks, for international markets.  Marie holds an M.B.A. from University of Ottawa and M.Math from University of Waterloo.   Contact Marie via

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