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Short-term agility requires a long-term vision: Building Network Management for the future

It is an exciting time for technology! The disruption and opportunities offered by virtualized environments have given communication service providers more choices than ever when it comes to deploying applications in their IT environments for smoother network management and a higher customer experience for their mobile phone users. Communication Service Providers need to balance technology, local integration versus turnkey solutions, and TCO when deciding how to host a network management application. The Ericsson Network Manager is built for this challenge and is up for the job!

Product Owner for Ericsson Network Manager deployments

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Product Owner for Ericsson Network Manager deployments

Product Owner for Ericsson Network Manager deployments

To start with, what is Ericsson Network Manager (ENM) and what are its benefits?

Ericsson Network Manager is the software used by a communication service provider’s network management engineers to manage Ericsson radio, core, and transport networks, including the latest 5G and future 6G networks. It is a full suite of applications to roll out the networks, perform network configuration, monitor network performance, update network software and more for an increased customer experience. Your mobile data streams depend on a well configured network and a well configured network depends on the Ericsson Network Manager managing the network in a smooth and efficient way.

Some time ago, Ericsson foresaw that a growing virtualization movement would have a profound impact on the technology landscape. The existing network management product, OSSRC, designed as a monolithic application, would not be the answer to this challenge. Assumptions about how applications were built and delivered to our customers would need to be rethought for a market that demanded much greater deployment flexibility. What was needed was a modular, services-based application that could meet the changing demands of communication service providers and be ready to deploy in differing environments when virtualization technology matured to telco expectations. Ericsson Network Manager was born!

At first, the deployment of the new application looked similar to the deployment of the old application. Virtualization technologies were still immature and were not ready to take on the critical network management required by operators. It was, as before, network management software running on Linux on hardware tailored to meet specific capabilities. Critically, however, the stateless Ericsson Network Manager software was disaggregated into its component services and deployed in virtual machines hosted by the underlying Linux operating system. Other services such as databases still ran as bare-metal services directly on the Linux hosts. This set the foundations for deployments to come.

The future was taking shape

A big step towards the future came in 2018 when Ericsson launched its first Ericsson Network Manager offering on an OpenStack environment. Building on the already developed virtual machines, the databases were now also deployed in virtual machines (VMs)  with specific controls to protect the stateful data. For the first time, the hard dependency between the Ericsson Network Manager software and the underlying hardware had been broken. The Ericsson OpenStack-based lifecycle manager VNF-LCM orchestrated the lifecycle operations such as installation and upgrade with a speed significantly faster than the integrated Ericsson Network Management could manage. This OpenStack based offering was at a small scale only and was primarily targeted towards the management of core networks and small RAN networks. The next step would be to deliver a network management system at the extra-large scale running on non-bespoke infrastructure.

Another disruptor, Kubernetes, launched in 2017 to orchestrate containers, offered a shift from virtualization to containerization. In 2019 the decision was taken that Ericsson Network Management would pursue containerization rather than virtualization for the extra-large deployment. The earlier work on virtualization paved the way for a containerized based network management system. Using Kubernetes and helm for orchestration, the  Ericsson Network Manager virtual machines were re-built as containers with the objective of being capable of running on any CNCF (Cloud Native Computing Foundation) compatible cloud.

The initial architectural vision was key to making this transition. With the software modularized, the network manager natively supported in-situ software upgrades without having to offload to a secondary deployment. It also natively supported a rolling-over-node upgrade of the underlying CaaS (Container as a Service) retaining 100% capacity again without having to offload traffic. These are key capabilities established in the integrated system and undoubtedly would be mandatory in a software-only offering.

Cloud-native - a game changer

With the product taking shape through 2020, we needed a similarly forward-looking customer to bring the product from the lab into production. A tier-1 operator in the US using several network management systems from Ericsson was looking to modernize their fleet and was similarly enthusiastic about cloud native solutions. Together we began the process of taking the cloud-native Ericsson network manager live managing their radio access network. In 2021, we reached the milestone of a cloud native Ericsson Network Manager in live production and they have continuously rolled out more after this. An upgrade time of 2 hours has been a game changer when managing the fleet and allows their Ericsson Network Manager management team to change the way they approach maintenance windows.

What then of the future?

The disruptors will undoubtedly continue to disrupt. In addition to the on-premises Cloud-as-a-Service vendors, including the Ericsson CNIS, hyperscale cloud vendors also have public cloud offerings and have started to catch the attention of the telco market, particularly for the more IT-based applications. There are currently a number of cloud native Ericsson Network Manager running in the public cloud serving the enterprise segment. The choice of Communication Service Providers (CSPs) is likely to come down to a technology strategy, security assessment, and cost. While Ericsson has driven forward with virtualization and containerization for Ericsson Network Manager, we have also continued to invest in modernizing the integrated offering to allow CSPs a choice of deployment that meets their needs. Advancements in hardware have allowed Ericsson Network Manager to densify the software, giving a ~50% hardware footprint reduction for the same extra-large capacity. Hardware costs have been reduced by ~35% and power consumption is reduced by ~25%. This efficiency is a big benefit to CSPs who have ever-increasing demands on their data centers. More than ever Ericsson Network Manager has a deployment option to match the customer’s technological and business strategies.

This adaptability is where Ericsson Network Manager shows the strength of its long-term vision. The same Ericsson Network Manager application software can run on containerized clouds, virtualized clouds, private or public clouds, and natively on commodity hardware. Regardless of the deployment option, the experience delivered to the end user will be the same high-quality, high-performance Network Management bringing a smooth operation and increased customer experience. 

The next step on this journey will be to leverage the deployment options, which have been built. Greater scale for both core and RAN networks, deployment flexibility to suit operators’ use, and a constant focus on security are the near-term focus areas. Achieving this lets us say that the Ericsson Network Manageris truly built for the future.

Learn more about the Ericsson Network Manager here.

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