The priority of services versus automation is a serious question, not a twist on the old chicken-egg joke. Do we use automation for configuration and delivery of today’s services? Or do we first focus on integrating APIs and automation?
Improving Service Delivery with Automation
Communication Service Providers (CSPs) want to take the cost out of and put speed into service delivery. The traditional approach to achieving this goal is to improve and expand the use of automation. This includes concepts like automated discovery, zero touch commissioning, flow-through provisioning and service assurance.
These are admirable goals, but they are all focused on improving delivery of today’s existing services. The result is a reduction in operational expenses, but applying automation in this way will do little to accelerate creation of the new services that will drive top line growth.
In fact, this model will often require upgrades of network equipment to facilitate the requisite automation, which increases the cost and time required to deploy a new service. How can we better use automation to drive revenue?
SDN as an Automation Platform
I have previously written here and here about the automation aspect of Software Defined Networking (SDN), including the APIs and protocols such as OpenFlow. Now, I would like to explore how we can use the automation capabilities that SDN provides as a base for service creation.
Rather than creating a service and then implementing automation to support it, we can now build a base of APIs and automation that enables new services. The focus should be on creating a set of interfaces that are rich in functionality and are optimized for machine-to-machine interactions.
OpenFlow is often mentioned, but its functionality is limited to the forwarding plane, so it is not complete. The best example for an API is using RESTful interfaces to deliver configuration in an XML or JSON format. RESTful interfaces are ideal for this type of automation because they are lightweight and because they are supported by a rich set of development tools and libraries. By constructing this base of automation support, we now enable the creation and deployment of services, without requiring an upgrade of the underlying network.
Creating New Services Using Automation
So, which comes first: services or automation? If you care about top line growth, the answer is “automation.” I believe that the best way to radically improve the delivery of existing services and facilitate new service creation is to first create a rich set of automation interfaces. Doing so may require an initial set of upgrades or changes to network equipment, but some of this may be minimized by the judicious use of network controllers and element management systems for abstraction. Once the capabilities are in place, CSPs are empowered to quickly create and deploy new services without requiring subsequent upgrades to the network elements.
This type of environment will allow the CSPs to be much quicker and bolder in creation and delivery of new services because the cost and risk will be so much lower, and because the available tools for automation will be so much better. By adopting this model CSPs can achieve the revenue growth they need.
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