Email a colleague    

September 2015

Delivering Service Assurance Excellence at a Reduced Operating Cost

Delivering Service Assurance Excellence at a Reduced Operating Cost

“What you really need is failure.  I’m not talking about failure on a small scale, but a really big failure.  Only after you have that experience can you begin to run your business creatively.”
Barry Diller, media mogul & billionaire, in Inc. Magazine


More than ever, an operator’s choice of network management software can truly spell success or failure.

When an operator lacks an advanced service assurance solution, it sets itself up for service quality failure, which lowers the customer experience — and may ultimately cause the business itself to fail.

And getting it right is a big challenge thanks to the great diversity and complexity of today’s networks.  A good assurance system must not only keep pace with business change, it must also be efficient.  Gone are the days when you could afford to hire a large team of engineers or integrators to keep the system accurate and up-to-date.

Well, one company delivering a service assurance system that fits today’s market need is Centina Systems, and their Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Gregg Hara, now joins us.  Gregg explains the catalyst for starting Centina, the continuing network challenges they address, and innovative business model they’ve set up to put advanced service assurance within easier reach.

Dan Baker: Gregg, thanks for joining us.  Maybe we could begin by hearing a bit about Centina’s mission.

Gregg Hara: Thanks for the invitation, Dan.  The founders of Centina hail from the major equipment providers in communications — places like Nortel, Alcatel, Fujitsu and Cisco.  And their background was in building Element Management Systems (EMSs) for those hardware vendors, so these guys are pretty network-savvy, especially in transport and optical networks running the TL1 protocol.

Now having spent a good deal of time in the Network Operation Centers (NOCs) of telco customers, they noticed the immense problems the NOC users were having.  Here’s a quick rundown of the issues they noticed:

  • Fighting fires as opposed to doing prevention — What NOC people were basically doing was fighting fires — reacting to events, but doing little in the way of proactive maintenance.
  • Lack of automation to isolate problems and determine customer impact — Having to navigate through multiple systems made it impossible to quickly determine which customers were affected by problems.  The current systems could not even point the user in the right direction.  If they could, they’d be able to head off problems before they impact customers.
  • Users are overwhelmed by the workload — Changes need to be constantly made in the assurance system, yet those changes are very time consuming to implement because lots of scripting and programming is involved.  As a result, users can’t keep up and are forced to cut corners.

So seeing all these service assurance headaches, Centina’s founders figured there must be a better way.  That’s why they decide to go out on their own and build a better product.

What do you believe is the main source of problems in the legacy service assurance systems?

Well, to begin, there’s very little you get out of the box.  When you first install legacy products, they don’t do anything because they are merely toolkits.  You have to spend months and months — perhaps years — customizing them to monitor, correlate and do the tasks you want them to do.

Take for example integrating to all devices in the network.  Every provider usually has between 50 and 250 different device types, and if you want to monitor all of those different device types in one system, that’s a lot of hard work.

First, you have to build out probes to handle all the alarms and traps.  And if you want to monitor device performance, you have to define polling and write formulas for all the performance data.  And once you’ve established that baseline, you’ve also got to maintain it because engineering upgrades the network devices all the time.

This is very cumbersome, yet this is exactly what life is like in a legacy service assurance deployment.  People have dedicated their careers to becoming proficient in these toolkits, and it’s all about writing Perl script, coding and dealing in lots of technical detail.

Now this situation is only going to get worse as SDN and NFV services roll out because there will then be multiple points you have to monitor and correlate, from the application to the virtual network to the physical network.

How do you get around these network integration and maintenance headaches?

Well, at Centina we feel strongly that the only way an operator or MSO can manage service assurance successfully is to get some major help from their software provider.

A service provider shouldn’t have to manage the updating of network device integrations.  Seems like that should be the responsibility of the solution vendor they bought their tool from.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done.  Centina created what we call a Smart Plug-In for every vendor and model number that we have interfaced to at our customers.  Today, that’s over 1,000 different plug-ins across 135 different vendors.  This library works almost like an app on your phone.  The software goes out and discovers all the devices in your network and matches them up to the appropriate plug-in and just starts monitoring.

It will process alarms and handle every performance metric that the device supports.  Then it’s a simple matter of configuring which alarms and metrics you want to collect, how often you want to poll the performance data, and then define any thresholds.

Now when we sign up a new customer, they will invariably ask us to support some new devices not yet in our library.  It takes us between one and three weeks to build a brand new plug-in.

After that, when a new device release comes out, the operator is fully covered under our ongoing maintenance.

What about the service visibility you need to quickly isolate problems and find out what customers are affected?  And what about service level management?  To what degree is that concept real today?

Dan, if you talk to any service provider managing large networks, they’ll tell you that they have very little visibility into their end-to-end services — how the services are layered.  That’s very hard to deliver because these are multi-vendor, multi-technology environments.

Here’s the issue.  When you buy a high speed internet service from a Cox, Time Warner, Level 3, AT&T, or Verizon, you can get a pipe into the internet via Ethernet, but that Ethernet is running over some other technology.  It might be running over SONET or DWDM.  Many different layers may make up that service.  So when a network problem or performance issue occurs, it’s tough for a service provider to figure out where the root cause of the problem lies.

When you first get the alarm or a customer calls to complain about the issue, you need to figure out how the different layers are all being managed by different systems.  So the user is forced to swivel-chair through all these different systems to figure out what’s going.

What we’ve done at Centina is to give the user the ability to visualize end-to-end services, hierarchies, topological layers, plus provide various charts and alarm views.  And, since we have all this information in our system, it can automatically suppress all the noise in the network and highlight the root-cause of the problem to improve the reliability of the network.

It’s a big help because it pulls all the information you need to see all the layers visually.  For instance, it lays out in a tree the various Ethernet components, and mixed in there are the performance and alarm data at each level displayed in a vendor- and technology-independent way.

We have such a system up and running at WOW, Wide Open West, who is the 9th largest cable provider in the U.S. with about one million subscribers.

Gregg, what’s your solution look like from the user (operator) perspective?

Well, as I mentioned before, the catalyst for launching Centina in the first place was user problems in the NOC, so we’ve devoted a lot of time thinking how to improve the user experience.

Number one, everything is browser based, making it easy to learn and configure.  Being browser-based reduces on-going administration time and costs, too.

Now in a legacy assurance system you usually get a couple of alarm dashboards, but the ability to interact with the alarm system is very limited.  Users don’t have a lot of control over visualization and don’t have the ability to change the configuration of the system.

With our NetOmnia product, however, the user herself can create new views and filter the results without touching the underlying database or doing any scripting.  So if the user wants to look at performance in five separate regions or five separate technologies, it’s easy to create that view.

Say you want to automate action on an event.  Well, you can set up a little workflow that says, “If I get a critical alarm and it’s been active for more than 10 minutes and nobody has acknowledged it, then send an SMS to everybody in the NOC to let them know somebody needs to get on this problem fast.” A workflow like that only takes a couple of minutes to create.

So these are some highlights of our system.

Service providers and operators are looking at SDN and NFV to transform their business, so how has Centina prepared to meet the demands of virtualized networks?

Well, our solution can successfully support the current and evolving assurance needs of virtualized networks and we have been seeing an increasing interest in service assurance.  Through virtualization, service providers are not only decreasing their network’s maintenance and associated costs but are also increasing their service’s innovation capabilities and improving customer satisfaction — provided they have the right proactive, service assurance solutions in place to monitor network lifecycle events.  However, though the benefits of SDN and NFV are significant, service assurance is much more challenging and even more necessary than with traditional networks.

What is needed today is a comprehensive and adaptable service assurance solution that provides holistic service health and performance visualization across hybrid legacy and next-generation SDN/NFV networks.  Ultimately, having an end-to-end, strategic service assurance solution in place will help providers successfully transition to virtual networks.

Whereas most vendors are working towards supporting virtual services and presenting mostly slideware at this point, NetOmnia is already integrated with OpenStack and Open Daylight to support the assurance of SDN and NFV services.

Thanks, Gregg.  It’s nice to know that an affordable and full-featured assurance solution like this is available.  And for large telcos who are wedded to their current solution partner, awareness of these nice capabilities should help move some elephants.

Copyright 2015 Black Swan Telecom Journal

 

About the Expert

Gregg Hara

Gregg Hara

Gregg Hara is Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at Centina Systems.  He has over 20 years in the telecom and OSS software space and joined Centina in 2009.  He takes the initiative of defining new markets and establishing relationships with key service providers and vendors.  Prior to Centina Systems, Gregg was Senior Director of Sales for Sigma Systems and earlier, with TeleGea Systems.

Gregg started his career at GTE and was one of the original members of OSI, and then at Micromuse, in various roles of solution delivery, sales and business development of Network Management and Service Assurance solutions.

Gregg holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Enginerring from MIT in Cambridge, MA.

Related Stories

  • Delivering Service Assurance Excellence at a Reduced Operating Cost interview with Gregg Hara — The great diversity and complexity of today’s networks make service assurance a big challenge.  But advances in off-the-shelf software now permit the configuring and visualizing of services across multiple technologies on a modest operating budget.
  • Paradigm Shift in OSS Software: Network Topology Views via Enterprise-Search interview with Benedict Enweani — Enterprise-search is a wildly successful technology on the web, yet its influence has not yet rippled to the IT main stream.  But now a large Middle Eastern operator has deployed a major service assurance application using enterprise-search.  The interview discusses this multi-dimensional topology solution and compares it to traditional network inventory.
  • The Multi-Vendor MPLS: Enabling Tier 2 and 3 Telecoms to Offer World-Class Networks to SMBs interview with Prabhu Ramachandran — MPLS is a networking technology that has caught fire in the last decade.  Yet the complexity of MPLS has relegated to being mostly a large carrier solution.  Now a developer of a multi-vendor MPLS solutions explains why the next wave of MPLS adoption will come from tier 2/3 carriers supporting SMB customers.
  • Big Data: Is it Ready for Prime Time in Customer Experience Management? interview with Thomas Sutter — Customer experience management is one of the most challenging of OSS domains and some suppliers are touting “big data” solutions as the silver bullet for CEM upgrades and consolidation.  This interview challenges the readiness of big data soluions to tackle OSS issues and deliver the cost savings.  The article also provides advice on managing technology risks, software vendor partnering, and the strategies of different OSS suppliers.
  • Calculated Risk: The Race to Deliver the Next Generation of LTE Service Management interview with Edoardo Rizzi — LTE and the emerging heterogeneous networks are likely to shake up the service management and customer experience management worlds.  Learn about the many new network management challenges LTE presents, and how a small OSS software firm aims to beat the big established players to market with a bold new technology and strategy.
  • Mobile Broadband: The Customer Service Assurance Challenge interview with Michele Campriani — iPhone and Android traffic is surging but operators struggle with network congestion and dropping ARPUs.  The answer?  Direct  resources and service quality measures to ensure VIPs are indeed getting the quality they expect.  Using real-life examples that cut to the chase of technical complexities, this article explains the chief causes of service quality degradation and describes efficient ways to deal with the problem.

Related Articles

  • Pure Play NFV: Lessons Learned from Masergy’s Virtual Deployment for a Global Enterprise interview with Prayson Pate — NFV is just getting off the ground, but one cloud provider to enterprises making a stir in virtual technology waters is Masergy.  Here are lessons learned from Masergy’s recent global deployment using a NFV pure play software approach.
  • The Digital Enabler: A Charging, Self-Care & Marketing Platform at the Core of the Mobile Business interview with Jennifer Kyriakakis — The digital enabler is a central platform that ties together charging, self-care, and marketing.  The article explains why leading operators consider digital enablers pivotal to their digital strategies.
  • Delivering Service Assurance Excellence at a Reduced Operating Cost interview with Gregg Hara — The great diversity and complexity of today’s networks make service assurance a big challenge.  But advances in off-the-shelf software now permit the configuring and visualizing of services across multiple technologies on a modest operating budget.
  • Are Cloud-Based Call Centers the Next Hot Product for the SMB Market? interview with Doron Dovrat — Quality customer service can improve a company’s corporate identity and drive business growth.  But many SMBs are priced out of acquiring modern call center technology.  This article explains the benefits of affordable and flexible cloud-based call centers.
  • Flexing the OSS & Network to Support the Digital Ecosystem interview with Ken Dilbeck — The need for telecoms to support a broader digital ecosystem requires an enormous change to OSS infrastructures and the way networks are being managed.  This interview sheds light on these challenges.
  • Crossing the Rubicon: Is it Time for Tier Ones to Move to a Real-Time Analytics BSS? interview with Andy Tiller — Will tier one operators continue to maintain their quilt works of legacy and adjunct platforms — or will they radically transform their BSS architecture into a new  system designed to address the new telecom era?  An advocate for radical transformation discusses: real-time analytics, billing for enterprises, partnering mashups, and on-going transformation work at Telenor.
  • Paradigm Shift in OSS Software: Network Topology Views via Enterprise-Search interview with Benedict Enweani — Enterprise-search is a wildly successful technology on the web, yet its influence has not yet rippled to the IT main stream.  But now a large Middle Eastern operator has deployed a major service assurance application using enterprise-search.  The interview discusses this multi-dimensional topology solution and compares it to traditional network inventory.
  • The Multi-Vendor MPLS: Enabling Tier 2 and 3 Telecoms to Offer World-Class Networks to SMBs interview with Prabhu Ramachandran — MPLS is a networking technology that has caught fire in the last decade.  Yet the complexity of MPLS has relegated to being mostly a large carrier solution.  Now a developer of a multi-vendor MPLS solutions explains why the next wave of MPLS adoption will come from tier 2/3 carriers supporting SMB customers.
  • Enabling Telecoms & Utilities to Adapt to the Winds of Business Change interview with Kirill Rechter — Billing is in the midst of momentous change.  Its value is no longer just around delivering multi-play services or sophisticated rating.  In this article you’ll learn how a billing/CRM supplier has adapted to the times by offering deeper value around the larger business issues of its telecom and utility clients.
  • Driving Customer Care Results & Cost Savings from Big Data Facts interview with Brian Jurutka — Mobile broadband and today’s dizzying array of app and network technology present a big challenge to customer care.  In fact, care agents have a hard time staying one step ahead of customers who call to report problems.  But network analytics comes to the rescue with advanced mobile handset troubleshooting and an ability to put greater intelligence at the fingertips of highly trained reps.
  • Hadoop and M2M Meet Device and Network Management Systems interview with Eric Wegner — Telecom big-data in networks is more than customer experience managment: it’s also about M2M plus network and element management systems.  This interview discusses the explosion in machine-to-machine devices, the virtues and drawbacks of Hadoop, and the network impact of shrink-wrapped search.
  • The Data Center & Cloud Infrastructure Boom: Is Your Sales/Engineering Team Equipped to Win? by Dan Baker — The build-out of enterprise clouds and data centers is a golden opportunity for systems integrators, carriers, and cloud providers.  But the firms who win this business will have sales and engineering teams who can drive an effective and streamlined requirements-to-design-to-order process.  This white paper points to a solution — a collaborative solution designs system — and explains 8 key capabilities of an ideal platform.
  • Big Data: Is it Ready for Prime Time in Customer Experience Management? interview with Thomas Sutter — Customer experience management is one of the most challenging of OSS domains and some suppliers are touting “big data” solutions as the silver bullet for CEM upgrades and consolidation.  This interview challenges the readiness of big data soluions to tackle OSS issues and deliver the cost savings.  The article also provides advice on managing technology risks, software vendor partnering, and the strategies of different OSS suppliers.
  • Calculated Risk: The Race to Deliver the Next Generation of LTE Service Management interview with Edoardo Rizzi — LTE and the emerging heterogeneous networks are likely to shake up the service management and customer experience management worlds.  Learn about the many new network management challenges LTE presents, and how a small OSS software firm aims to beat the big established players to market with a bold new technology and strategy.
  • Decom Dilemma: Why Tearing Down Networks is Often Harder than Deploying Them interview with Dan Hays — For every new 4G LTE and IP-based infrastructure deployed, there typically a legacy network that’s been rendered obsolete and needs to be decommissioned.  This article takes you through the many complexities of network decom, such as facilities planning, site lease terminations, green-safe equipment disposal, and tax relief programs.
  • Migration Success or Migraine Headache: Why Upfront Planning is Key to Network Decom interview with Ron Angner — Shutting down old networks and migrating customers to new ones is among the most challenging activities a network operators does today.  This article provides advice on the many network issues surrounding migration and decommissioning.  Topics discussed include inventory reconciliation, LEC/CLEC coordination, and protection of customers in the midst of projects that require great program management skills.
  • Navigating the Telecom Solutions Wilderness: Advice from Some Veteran Mountaineers interview with Al Brisard — Telecom solutions vendors struggle mightily to position their solutions and figure out what to offer next in a market where there’s considerable product and service crossover.  In this article, a veteran order management specialist firm lays out its strategy for mixing deep-bench functional expertise with process consulting, analytics, and custom API development.
  • Will Telecoms Sink Under the Weight of their Bloated and Out-of-Control Product Stacks? interview with Simon Muderack — Telecoms pay daily for their lack of product integration as they constantly reinvent product wheels, lose customer intelligence, and waste time/money.  This article makes the case of an enterprise product catalog.  Drawing on central catalog cases at a few Tier 1 operators, the article explains the benefits: reducing billing and provisioning costs, promoting product reuse, and smoothing operations.
  • Virtual Operator Life: Enabling Multi-Level Resellers Through an Active Product Catalog interview with Rob Hill — The value of product distribution via virtual operators is immense.  They enable a carrier to sell to markets it cannot profitably serve directly.  Yet the need for greater reseller flexibility in the bundling and pricing of increasingly complex IP and cloud services is now a major channel barrier.  This article explains what’s behind an innovative product catalog solution that doubles as a service creation environment for resellers in multiple tiers.
  • Telecom Blocking & Tackling: Executing the Fundamentals of the Order-to-Bill Process interview with Ron Angner — Just as football teams need to be good at the basics of blocking and tackling, telecoms need to excel at their own fundamental skillset: the order-to-cash process.  In this article, a leading consulting firm explains its methodology for taking operators on the path towards order-to-cash excellence.  Issues discussed include: provisioning intervals; standardization and simplicity; the transition from legacy to improved process; and the major role that industry metrics play.
  • Wireline Act IV, Scene II: Packaging Network & SaaS Services Together to Serve SMBs interview with John Frame — As revenue from telephony services has steadily declined, fixed network operators have scrambled to support VoIP, enhanced IP services, and now cloud applications.  This shift has also brought challenges to the provisioning software vendors who support the operators.  In this interview, a leading supplier explains how it’s transforming from plain ol‘ OSS software provider to packager of on-net and SaaS solutions from an array of third party cloud providers.
  • Telecom Merger Juggling Act: How to Convert the Back Office and Keep Customers and Investors Happy at the Same Time interview with Alan Burgess & Curtis Mills — Billing and OSS conversions as the result of a merger are a risky activity as evidenced by famous cases at Fairpoint and Hawaiian Telcom.  This article offers advice on how to head off problems by monitoring key operations checkpoints, asking the right questions, and leading with a proven conversion methodology.
  • Is Order Management a Provisioning System or Your Best Salesperson? by John Konczal — Order management as a differentiator is a very new concept to many CSP people, but it’s become a very real sales booster in many industries.  Using electronics retailer BestBuy as an example, the article points to several innovations that can — and are — being applied by CSPs today.  The article concludes with 8 key questions an operator should ask to measure advanced order management progress.
  • NEC Takes the Telecom Cloud from PowerPoint to Live Customers interview with Shinya Kukita — In the cloud computing world, it’s a long road from technology success to telecom busness opportunity.  But this story about how NEC and Telefonica are partnering to offer cloud services to small and medium enterprises shows the experience of early cloud adoption.  Issues discussed in the article include: customer types, cloud application varieties, geographic region acceptance, and selling challenges.
  • Billing As Enabler for the Next Killer Business Model interview with Scott Swartz — Facebook, cloud services, and Google Ads are examples of innovative business models that demand unique or non-standard billing techniques.  The article shows how flexible, change-on-the-fly, and metadata-driven billing architectures are enabling CSPs to offer truly ground breaking services.
  • Real-Time Provisioning of SIM Cards: A Boon to GSM Operators interview with Simo Isomaki — Software-controlled SIM card configuration is revolutionizing the activation of GSM phones.  The article explains how dynamic SIM management decouples the selection of numbers/services and delivers new opportunities to market during the customer acquisition and intial provisoining phase.
  • A Cynic Converted: IN/Prepaid Platforms Are Now Pretty Cool interview with Grant Lenahan — Service delivery platforms born in the IN era are often painted as inflexible and expensive to maintain.  Learn how modern SDPs with protocol mediation, high availability, and flexible Service Creation Environments are delivering value for operators such as Brazil’s Oi.
  • Achieving Revenue Maximization in the Telecom Contact Center interview with Robert Lamb — Optimizing the contact center offers one of the greatest returns on investment for a CSP.  The director of AT&T’s contact center services business explains how telecoms can strike an “artful balance” between contact center investment and cost savings.  The discussion draws from AT&T’s consulting with world class customers like Ford, Dell, Discover Financial, DISH Network, and General Motors.
  • Mobile Broadband: The Customer Service Assurance Challenge interview with Michele Campriani — iPhone and Android traffic is surging but operators struggle with network congestion and dropping ARPUs.  The answer?  Direct  resources and service quality measures to ensure VIPs are indeed getting the quality they expect.  Using real-life examples that cut to the chase of technical complexities, this article explains the chief causes of service quality degradation and describes efficient ways to deal with the problem.
  • Telco-in-a-Box: Are Telecoms Back in the B/OSS Business? interview with Jim Dunlap — Most telecoms have long since folded their merchant B/OSS software/services businesses.  But now Cycle30, a subsidiary of Alaskan operator GCI, is offering a order-to-cash managed service for other operators and utilities.  The article discusses the company’s unique business model and contrasts it with billing service bureau and licensed software approaches.
  • Bricks, Mortar & Well-Trained Reps Make a Comeback in Customer Management interview with Scott Kohlman — Greater industry competition, service complexity, and employee turnover have raised the bar in the customer support.  Indeed, complex services are putting an emphasis on quality care interactions in the store, on the web, and through the call center.  In this article you’ll learn about innovations in CRM, multi-tabbed agent portals,  call center agent training, customer treatment philosophies, and the impact of  self-service.
  • 21st Century Order Management: The Cross-Channel Sales Conversation by John Konczal — Selling a mobile service is generally not a one-and-done transaction.  It often involves several interactions — across the web, call center, store, and even kiosks.  This article explains the power of a “cross-channel hub” which sits above all sales channels, interacts with them all, and allows a CSP to keep the sales conversation moving forward seamlessly.
  • Building a B/OSS Business Through Common Sense Customer Service by David West — Delivering customer service excellence doesn‘t require mastering some secret technique.  The premise of this article is that plain dealing with customers and employees is all that’s needed for a winning formula.  The argument is spelling out in a simple 4 step methodology along with some practical examples.