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June 1, 2000
Real-World Network Management Strategies
By M. J. Richter
Many industry observers, especially those on Wall Street, say the critical success factor for today’s carriers is the ability to offer bundled services–local, long-haul and Internet access–at competitive prices.
However, carriers operating in the real world know it’s not quite that simple. Any carrier that wants to attract customers must position itself as a one-stop shop for voice and data services; yet to keep those customers and sign up others, that carrier must deliver service in a high-quality, low-cost, reliable and timely way.
Satisfying that customer demand clearly depends on effective network management.
The term “network management” often encompasses a broad range of systems and functions, but service providers usually interpret it as the tools they need to monitor the various pieces of equipment in the network, detect and help fix problems, allocate capacity, and monitor network performance, both generally and in terms of SLAs with individual customers.
The importance of these tools in today’s increasingly complex networks is evident in the growing amounts of money carriers spend on network management. According to International Data Corp.
(www.idc.com) studies, the worldwide network-management
market is expected to grow from $3.3 billion in 1999 to almost $4.4 billion by 2003. Service providers have become bigger spenders in this arena than enterprise IT managers. While carriers accounted for 51 percent of the market’s revenues two years ago, IDC predicts they will account for 71 percent by 2003.
In announcing the findings last summer, research manager with IDC’s network-management program, Elisabeth Rainge says, “The implication of this shift away from enterprises to service providers is that the bulk of network-management products will change to support carrier-class high availability and massive scalability.”
In fact, the service-provider market will be “the single most important dynamic shaping the network- and service-management market over the next five years,” she says.
Managing a Moving Target
Despite the growing importance of network management to carriers and their willingness to invest money in it, they still face significant challenges when it comes to finding the tools they need. Their biggest problem clearly is the rapid pace of change within the telecommunications industry.
Everything–technology, mergers and acquisitions, customer requirements, competitive pressures–is moving at such a fast clip that finding the right network-management tools is like trying to hit a moving target.
Rapid technological advances make
networks–and the management thereof–more and more complex, says George Commons, vice president of business development for WatchMark Corp.
(www.watchmark.com), a network-management vendor recently acquired by Lucent Technologies Inc.
It is particularly evident in the increasing diversity of network elements being deployed to support an equally increasing diversity of services. Further, each of those network elements continues to evolve rapidly, Commons says.
“For example, I remember a number of years ago, Lucent put out one software release a year for its switch platform. Recently, they’ve gone to two releases a year, and now there are four. And that’s just one data point. If you look at every element in the network and apply that same rate of change,
you can see that it’s very complex to manage,” Commons says.
The ongoing evolution from circuit-switched to packet-switched technologies also adds to the network-management challenge. Certainly incumbent operators face an especially tough task when it comes to managing their hybrid networks and all the proprietary interfaces associated with their legacy circuit-switched systems. However, the newer carriers–those using IP-based technology to build their networks–can’t avoid technology-induced headaches either.
Commons says that some IP-telephony providers “started out thinking they could manage a phone network with four engineers, and found out they needed 60 because they couldn’t keep up with the rate of change on the network elements. They had people in there just typing away fiercely, trying to keep all their databases up to speed.”
Where to Start?
OK, network management is tough for every type of service provider. So what are carriers using to ensure they can deliver the high-quality, reliable, cost-effective and on-time services their customers demand? Most say they start with the element-management systems provided by their various equipment vendors.
2nd Century Communications Inc.
(www.2c2.com) is in the process of building out a nationwide ATM-based network that delivers voice and data services to small and medium-sized business customers. The company has deployed as its core switch the Siemens-Newbridge 36170
MainStreet, along with an adjunct softswitch call-control platform supplied by TeraBridge Technologies Corp.
(www.terabridge.com) and some aggregation devices from Advanced Switching Inc.
2nd Century Vice President of Engineering and Chief Technology Officer Vince Rocca says he wanted a comprehensive network-management package that he could customize to obtain additional capabilities.
“First and foremost, as far as the
network-management system that would be used by our network operations center [NOC], we looked for something that was off the shelf, reliable and well proven,” he says. “By default, the 36170 from Newbridge [Networks Inc.,
www.newbridge.com] has a very robust network-management system called the 46020 that we’re using.”
Noting that the 2nd Century’s infrastructure is “one of the first data-based voice networks ever put together,” Rocca says he and his staff also wanted some management capabilities tailored to that kind of infrastructure. Specifically, they wanted central access to data that identifies potential problems brewing in the network–data that enables technicians to take actions so that customer services are not disrupted.
Customizing May Be Called For
“In the traditional voice world, central-office technicians have the ability to intercept and monitor voice calls, to test the quality of calls–all those things,” Rocca says. “Nothing like that existed in the data-based voice world. So we went out and found equipment that allowed us to do that and then interfaced it into our network-management system.”
The solution turned out to be off-the-shelf test equipment from Wandel &
Goltermann, which merged with Wavetek in 1998 to become Wavetek Wandel Golter-mann
(www.wwgsolutions.com). WWG worked with 2nd Century to develop additional software that provides the CLEC with the predictive-management functionality. The customized add-on solution gives 2nd Century technicians ready access to any switch, test equipment or
CPE, Rocca says, “all from one integrated user interface.”
Too Soon for a Single Answer?
Such a central, comprehensive approach is not so important to Conectiv Communications Inc.
(www.conectiv2.com)–at least not right now. The telecom subsidiary of Conectiv
(www.conectiv.com), Conectiv Communications operates a
750-mile fiber network throughout Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Northern New Jersey. The carrier provides bundled local and long-haul voice and data services to business and residential customers, as well as wholesale transport capacity to other carriers. Its primary vendors for switching and transport equipment include Nortel Networks Corp.
(www.nortelnetworks.com), Fujitsu Ltd.
(www.fujitsu.co.jp) and ADTRAN Inc. (www.adtran.com).
Charles Mason, Conectiv
Communi-cations’ vice president of operations and engineering, says he prefers to rely on the discrete element-management systems supplied by those vendors. Each of those tools can handle such tasks as traffic allocations and assignments, while Telecom Business Solution (TBS) software from MetaSolv Software Inc.
(www.metasolv.com) takes care of provisioning chores.
“In provisioning those network elements, systems don’t talk to each other anyhow,” Mason says. “If it’s a Fujitsu ring, it’s a Fujitsu ring. When you pass off bandwidth between that and the Nortel ring, it becomes a physical connection.”
As a result, running all those separate management packages isn’t a big deal because the various technical teams within Conectiv deal only with their respective systems, he says.
“The provisioning people have to be able to go in and work with that provisioning system, the trouble-and-maintenance people have to be able to go in and work at that level,” Mason says. “So, we haven’t made the jump into an overall ‘manager’s manager’ system.”
He acknowledges a comprehensive solution is a nice idea, at least in theory. However, given the pace of change, Mason says an end-to-end management package likely would create more headaches than it alleviates, particularly in a multivendor environment in which all vendors are at different evolutionary stages in their product portfolios.
“I have [network-management] vendors beating my door down every day saying, ‘We can integrate all your systems into one manager’s manager,’ [but] until everyone kind of gets to the same page, it’s going to be an extremely painful process, and one you have to continually update,” Mason says.
The Management Piece Comes First
One carrier that has taken the opposite stance is CoreComm Communications Inc.
(www.core.com), which provides local, long-distance and Internet-access services to business and residential customers. A former reseller,
Core-Comm is morphing into a facilities-based CLEC by acquiring other carriers. For now, the
company also relies on equipment vendors’ element-management systems; however, that will change before CoreComm integrates those acquired infrastructures into a single network. That means the company is putting in place a comprehensive network-management solution before installing any networks.
CoreComm Network Services Vice President Tom Della Rocco says he and many of his colleagues learned from previous experiences with the buildout of NTL Inc.
(www.ntl.co.uk), a carrier in the United Kingdom. As a result, “we did the opposite of our past experiences and started
looking for a solution before we actually installed networks.”
Earlier this year, CoreComm tried some of WatchMark’s software, which the vendor is deploying in CoreComm’s Technology Management Center in Cleveland. CoreComm will test and deploy various WatchMark modules on a step-by-step basis.
“The one we’re using right now is the database we’ve built in WatchMark,” Della Rocco says. “We’re testing the capability to window into our Nortel [DMS-500] environment at this stage. The next step will be some other management tools, then predictive analysis, and then traffic planning.”
He points out that as CoreComm adds other vendors’ equipment, WatchMark will be responsible for integrating the necessary hooks into the database so that CoreComm can manage all of its multivendor networks.
“The approach here has been the vendors. Whether it’s been Ascend [Communications, which merged with Lucent in mid-1999], Lucent, Cisco [Systems Inc.,
www.cisco.com], Nortel, their architecture and their open standards must interface with our network-management solution,” he says.
The CoreComm strategy boils down to putting a solution in place now, before the carrier has more customers and a bigger network. “We know we’re going to have a huge problem if we don’t do it, so why wait until it becomes a problem?” Della Rocco asks.
He acknowledges that technology will continue to change rapidly, but emphasizes that CoreComm won’t have to change out its whole network-management system to manage those changes. It only will have to re-design the hooks into those technologies.
“We don’t want the technology to drive our business,” he says. “We want our business to use technology to make money.”
M.J. Richter is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.
Resellers Need Reliable Service Too
By M.J. Richter
Facilities-based carriers are not the only service providers that grapple with network-management issues. Resellers also need to satisfy their customers’ demands for high-quality, cost-effective and reliable service delivery.
As a result, many resellers are looking to their wholesale providers for the appropriate management tools. Williams Communications
(www.williamscommunications.com) has responded with its Customer Network Management System
The CNMS package offers a variety of network-management tools, including:
* Network views and alarms–a partitioned view into the Williams network that gives each reseller a logical map of its piece of that network, as well as per-circuit alarm views;
* Action tickets–resellers can create trouble tickets tailored to their individual customer-care, billing and operations systems;
* Billing and account review–resellers can see formatted summary information, which they can download to their own systems; and
* User administration–customized security applications that allow resellers to define user groups and assign security privileges for individual users.
Bob Kashwer, CNMS product manager, says Williams’ reseller-carrier customers all use the system through a web-based access method. However, he adds that Williams built the CNMS package “with an architecture that inherently supports integration if customers wish to deploy this within their own OSSs, rather than use it through a browser.”
Resellers can enter their orders and monitor the status of those orders for practically all services. Williams is adding management capabilities for voice services, as well as for its DWDM-based Optical Waves offering.
Like many facilities-based carriers that shop for comprehensive network-management solutions, Williams found few, if any, integrated software packages available from vendors.
Consequently, the company built its own solution. Eddie Garrott, CNMS market manager, says a team within the company’s information technologies group worked with marketing and product-development people “to really go out and look at what users’ needs were, to work with our own subject-matter experts and develop the tools that would deliver.”
Williams did not stop with the first release of CNMS, which targeted only private-line services. Kashwer says, the carrier has “a very substantial ongoing commitment” to its reseller customers to evolve CNMS right along with their needs.
“We came along with three to four releases per year, and our next release, focused on IP and Waves, will be out in the second quarter. And we’re really going to add some depth to the product in the release that’s due out at the end of the year.”
That CNMS enhancement will zero in on a new product offering called “access services,” although Kashwer points out it has nothing to do with dial tone. Reluctant to disclose details, he says only that Williams “has made a commitment to extend our large points of presence [PoPs], our major nodes, to our customers’ PoPs, which may be multiple locations within each metropolitan area.”
Garrott emphasizes that because Williams is “a true wholesaler,” the CNMS package “is not an ‘also’ type of product.”
“We have a different need to provide information to our retailers–we need to be partners with them and make sure they’re successful. So the more tools they can have and the more we can help them be successful, the more successful we are,” Garrott says.
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