One of the biggest challenges for the implementation of network automation is the lack of qualified professionals to manage the projects. We at Italtel with our long experience and our numerous success stories want to bring our point of view on the subject.
Today we talk about automation as the use of technologies in order to reduce manual activities, but there are various types of automation and here we want to deepen that in the field of network infrastructures and services. In this article we will talk about the advantages of automation and how it is adopted by telco providers. We will also talk about our experience and how Italtel we have achieved in this area.
Automation in the telco operator field: various applications
We can consider different declensions of the automation concept according to the domain in which these logics are applied. Some examples are:
- automation in network infrastructures aimed at making basic and advanced configuration procedures standard, controlled and fast. The components involved are transport, fixed and mobile access, the core IP network and the evolution of management systems;
- the virtualized and containerized evolution of network functions, which involves the adoption of an automation stack for managing the life cycle of these functions, valid for Telco Cloud architectures that can also be implemented in hybrid public / private contexts ;
- the automation of the Testing phase of the software components, particularly felt for applications developed with cloud native microservices – and for end-to-end testing of the entire solution;
- process automation which is typical of operational contexts in which multiple processes are automated based on the manual execution of a sequence of operations (interactions with multiple systems).
The benefits of automation for Service Providers
Automation guarantees the operator a simplified usability of both the infrastructure and the services.
The adoption of fully automatic procedures for the configuration and management of a network is an inevitable point of arrival for all operators. The new network architectures, driven by 5G evolution, are based on virtualization and distribution of network functions and applications in different data centers, the characteristics of which may change over time depending on the services to be enabled and the user profile. All this determines an increase in management complexity that is not compatible with manual execution, which is why software automata able to perform coordinated and instantaneous operations on the various components of the network are indispensable in order, for example, to guarantee bandwidth performance levels. and latency consistent with the service SLA required by the application and ultimately by the end user.
The presence of automata also allows the implementation of “closed loop” mechanisms: ie the ability of the network to self-adapt or self-repair on the basis of the analysis, measures and appropriate KPIs collected by the network itself.
The availability of automatic processes also benefits the end user, both business and consumer, who can be offered the opportunity to independently configure specific services, with a drastic reduction in the availability of the service associated with a greater level of customization.
The strategy of the Telco operators to implement automation logics
The strategy that we see being adopted is very similar to the progressive composition of the pieces of a puzzle to form the final design.
An essential card is the implementation of automated logics using dedicated platforms in the heart of an operator’s network, IP and Transport, both for basic configurations and for enabling business and consumer services. An example of the latter is the creation of dedicated routes (VPN level 2 and 3) to convey the traffic of business users or that of specific services, eg. the x-hauling traffic collected by the elements of the fixed and mobile core access network (OLT / DSLA for fixed and RAN for mobile). Moreover, the management of these elements has also evolved with the adoption of Automation mechanisms (SDN Controller). A similar process is taking place in the telco cloud, mobile core, fixed and mobile access domains.
The next step is the construction of end-to-end automated services, which, starting from work orders for enabling services, trigger configuration actions in the various network domains, which necessarily must be coordinated with each other. From a technical point of view it means managing a hierarchy of orchestrators in which the lowest level is made up of specialized orchestrators for the different domains, coordinated with each other by a higher level orchestrator who has the overall vision of the functionalities and resources necessary for the service.
Thinking of a sporting metaphor in the context of Formula 1, it is like having a chief mechanic who coordinates the work of the teams dedicated to tires and the set-up of the car in the pits.
We are beginning to see the first cases in which architectures are being built for the implementation of the concept of slicing, understood as the creation of a virtual network dedicated to a service / customer starting from shared network resources. This concept finds full application in a 5G architecture but can already be applied on traditional network architectures.
The role of data (analytics) in automation scenarios
The implementation of an automated network offers the possibility of automatically adapting its characteristics according to traffic conditions, use of individual applications and related computational resources. The collection of huge quantities of measures produced by the different network elements, their processing and modeling allow to define KPIs and metrics that guide the activation of specific adaptations of the network itself.
In this context, the analyzes carried out by AI / ML algorithms are becoming more and more relevant, allowing for early detection of possible malfunctions or carrying out predictive analyzes on the evolution of certain quantities or KPIs. All this ensures that the adjustments mentioned above can be “anticipated” in order to prevent any critical situations., In order to guarantee continuity of service.
Italtel’s automation projects with operators
Italtel has a Competence Center dedicated to Automation consisting of about a hundred specialists with multidisciplinary skills: solution architects, software developers, testing engineers, capable of acting on various technological platforms. The various projects are approached with a structured methodological approach but which manages to exploit the benefits introduced by Agile methodologies.
Among the projects that Italtel is carrying out, the most important ones concern the Network and Service Creation in the IP network and the Transport network. These projects consist in the development of use cases that automate the process of configuring new multi-technology network nodes, the onboarding of existing ones, and the configuration of L2VPN, L3VPN type services (to create connections dedicated to business, consumer, radio accesses (antennas). Many use cases are developed by a Tier 1 operator who has embarked on the path of automation with conviction with an increasingly concrete advancement plan. Other Tier 2 operators, favored by finding themselves creating networks from scratch ( green field) have immediately chosen to focus decisively on automatic procedures for their configuration and management.
Another rather interesting area is that of projects related to process automation in which the goal is to automate sequences of operations that are carried out manually in the Operations of a telco. These are often repetitive, prone to errors, once coded they can be performed by an automaton. As part of these projects, Italtel has developed ad hoc frameworks that facilitate the implementation of a multitude of use cases. Among these, procedures for testing circuits that have been put out of service, managing the life cycle of security certificates close to expiration and installed on different servers, retrieving views on the status of services and users deriving from the collection of information from different systems, up to solutions. that monitor the quality of Wi Fi connections provided by operators with relative automatic suggestions for optimizing the setting to improve the quality itself.