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Fierce Telecom | 2018 Preview: Network automation will take hold in operator networks

29 December 2017 As AT&T, Bell Canada, CenturyLink, and Verizon move forward with their SDN and NFV plans in 2018, network automation will play a prominent role in accelerating service creation and delivery over a software-centric network architecture.

Simply put, network automation tools support a variety of functions, including network mapping and device discovery as well as others like provisioning virtual network resources. Network automation will also play a role in provisioning virtual network resources as well as SDN network virtualization and orchestration, enabling auto-provisioning of virtual network functions and services.

Already, several service providers are putting the foundations in place to take advantage of network automation. AT&T fired an early shot in the network automation race with services like Network on Demand, which allows enterprise business customers to call up Ethernet bandwidth via an online portal.

Similar concepts are now being driven by other providers like Bell Canada, an early supporter of Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) when it was established by AT&T as the Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy platform. The Canadian operator plans to have ONAP in production in its network by the end of this year, meaning the telecom industry will get to see how its automation platforms are working in a real-world environment.

Bell Canada is equipping its development and operations teams with DevOps tools. The initial application for ONAP and network automation in Bell Canada's network will be on its data center business, a segment that’s used to support its growing applications.

“Our data center team was looking for some support to automate some of the functions they were doing manually or semi-manually,” said Tamer Shenouda, director of network transformation for Bell Canada, in an interview with FierceTelecom. Shenouda added that the migration to ONAP and automation is not just about technology. It’s also a cultural shift.

“From a top-down perspective, it’s more about enabling and empowering teams to figure out what are the components and how we deliver it,” Shenouda said. “The approach we took here is to start creating value for our customers and our operations teams and then learn from that to start scaling.”

Likewise, Epsilon, a wholesale provider, sees value in network automation to enable more efficient billing and provisioning methods for next-gen services like Ethernet. Epsilon has automated 50% of its global network of 95 points of presence.

George Szlosarek, CEO of Epsilon, told FierceTelecom it will automate the billing and procurement process for services like SIP trunking and Ethernet in 2018.

“We will be 100% automated as far as core networks by the first quarter of 2018, which will give us full coverage,” Szlosarek said. “We are actively deploying our Ethernet services in the automated platform today and the first quarter, we will be withdrawing the legacy ordering processes.”

Like Bell Canada, Epsilon says the advent of network automation is also a cultural change for all members of its team that are responsible for procuring and creating services. The service provider will be moving all of its services to its API-based Infiny platform.

“The whole training campaign and transformation is a mindset shift,” Szlosarek said. “We have been working with our sales and sales engineering team and talking about how they are providing solutions.”
While widespread network automation is still early, expect service provider automation projects to ramp in 2018. These projects will be carried out to drive efficiency and collaboration within organizations to scale service responsiveness.