By Smita Deshpande, 19 June, 2017.

DevOps for Operators in an Era of Digital Services

Users in a multitude of contexts — at work, at home, at play or on the road; are shaping a new digital economy in which agility for a superior user experience has emerged as the ultimate measure of competitive differentiation. As an industry benchmark, non-traditional service providers have re-architected their IT environments to accelerate the delivery of compelling digital services with extremely efficient cost structures.

These next generation environments have been purpose-built from the ground up to enable rapid service customization, self-serve personalization, and near real time bi-directional infrastructure scale. They are typified by user-configurable, granular, context-based services delivered at the touch of a button or through a spoken command. A key characteristic of these new environments is a service lifecycle management platform that supports an inexhaustible array of diverse service offerings delivered continuously.

Mass Customization of Digital Services

Scaling and tuning services in response to a dynamic service and user context necessitates “mass customization” of services. This requires an elastic, programmable infrastructure that leverages virtualization technology to provide an agile and efficient service delivery mechanism. Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) provide an excellent foundation, but operators must also be able to integrate virtual and physical infrastructure seamlessly to provide an end-to-end service. By bridging the network and IT domains, operators can manage their resources as a shared pool of capacity with automated provisioning and deployment across a set of services. This provides a more level playing field, allowing them to offer personalization with reduced delivery cost.

Digital Service Dynamism Necessitates a DevOps Mindset

Figure 1: DevOps for hybrid environments is defined by speed and simplicity 

Digital services, characterized by an ultra-fast and efficient lifecycle, are best served by a DevOps model that facilitates rapid, frequent, and reliable services at scale. Features of this model include:

  • Rapid service development and deployment. DevOps is defined by speed plus simplicity. It is best delivered through model-driven, policy-based service lifecycle automation. Fast, continuous roll-out of new services and service features is supported by automated service instantiation, testing, validation, provisioning and open-API-based integration into existing environments. 
  • Easy on-boarding of service components. Both internal and external components contribute to the offerings and are integral to the creation and delivery of the high level service. Services can be assembled from reusable components. Components can be in the form of an attribute, capability, feature or element such as a partner-onboarded VNF. 
  • Elastic scale. Each service must dynamically flex up, down, or in a scale-out manner in response to user demand, network traffic, and data center conditions. 
  • Service reliability and flexibility. Each service must be able to deliver policy-based, controllable QoS and SLA-based assurance. Services must support new business models such as usage-based pricing and tiered SLA options. 

Digital Services Deployed in Hybrid Environments

To leverage all their assets and capabilities, operators today are deploying digital services in hybrid environments. Over time, they will gradually transition existing services to cloud-based virtual services. Early adopters of cloud-based services will be more competitive, but operators can accelerate the transition with the help of automation tools designed to simplify the inherent complexity.

Figure 2: Calibrated layers of orchestration needed for service consistency and speed

Digital services typically run in multiple on-premises and multi-tenant data centers across multiple clouds, with each data center potentially being part of one or more clouds. Digital services are composed of multiple VNFs which run in virtual machines hosted on networking hardware in any cloud, or directly on physical hardware. Multiple VNFs are chained to form building blocks for delivering full scale, distributed services. This requires managing the entire traditional process related to the service lifecycle such as creation, orchestration, activation, and monitoring, PLUS the virtual application lifecycle including processes for on-boarding, instantiation, configuration, assurance, and application tuning – all of which take place in hybrid environments.

Managing and orchestrating VNFs is complex enough, but straddling physical and virtual worlds often results in significantly increased complexity for operators. The complexity is exponential when you consider that the lifecycle of both VNFs and PNFs must be synchronized for every service instance for each customer. And there must also be coordination across all process, resource, and service layers to complete closed-loop orchestration across all operational functions and resource domains.

To underscore the point, a digital service is typically composed of multiple, single function procedures that run in a mix of physical and virtual environments. Operators must be able to optimally distribute the VNFs and PNFs based on where the service is being instantiated, affinity rules concerning the relationship of virtual machines and their corresponding hosts, as well as other policy parameters. Orchestrating end-to-end digital services entails calibration of virtual machines and processes across different data centers and domains while being transparent to the service itself. This is why orchestration technology is so critical and why operators need a solution that allows them to align their infrastructure with the needs of dynamic, transient digital services.

Accelerating Digital Service Creation

Service creation in hybrid environments can be fraught with complexity and long deployment cycles – not to mention risk. To leverage SDN and NFV architectures for creating and deploying digital services, Ericsson has launched Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration, an open and modular solution that offers automated lifecycle management of hybrid services.

Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration was designed for end-to-end orchestration of a portfolio of diverse services. The solution is not limited to just the mobile core, network functions such as IMS or EPC, or virtual customer premises equipment; it is an architecture that accommodates all kinds of services.

It starts with VNF onboarding and testing so that certified VNFs can be reliably combined to create or modify services. Each service is process-based and pre-integrated with available service components. The solution extends to service delivery and assurance in a closed-loop fashion. Comprised of Ericsson OSS products and other functional components, Dynamic Orchestration provides business use cases that can be quickly deployed through pre-integrations, and pre-defined models and flows.

Dynamic Orchestration in effect provides DevOps for service providers. By facilitating cross-role collaboration to connect development (design and deployment of services) with operations (scale-in, scale-out, fulfillment and assurance), it enables an accelerated yet consistent workflow.

Full Scale Digital Service Delivery in Minutes!

Ericsson Dynamic Orchestration orchestrates the full service lifecycle in hybrid environments from end-to-end service creation to customer service deployment and assurance, all in a closed-loop fully automated manner.

Drilling down, it manages both VNFs and PNFs through their lifecycle from instantiation to service realization. It provides VNF event sequencing and multi-event coordination. By synthesizing and orchestrating VNF processes, the Ericsson solution enables onboarding of multivendor VNFs by the operator or by a qualified third party. Once certified, the VNFs are then available for integration into the operator ecosystem for relevant orchestration activities. Thus, the operator has at hand all available assets needed to design new VNF- and PNF-based services, and rapidly define and configure customer-specific services across their hybrid networks.

Related business processes such as service catalog management, service order management, inventory management, service design and configuration, and customer assurance are leveraged in conjunction with asset lifecycle management to complete the operation. 

Figure 3: Use cases enable faster deployment and faster value-added service delivery

Automation is the underlying theme throughout, providing the speed and flexibility essential for digital services. Zero-touch automation provides dramatically faster provisioning of network services such as SD-WAN, vCPE, Mobile VPN, Enterprise VPN, Network Slicing, plus emerging distributed services based on IoT and 5G – reducing provisioning time from weeks to hours and even minutes. Closed-loop service assurance based on policy and real-time analytics enables digital service providers to detect and auto recover from issues in real time. This then allows them to confidently provide SLAs that even their customers can monitor.

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Written by Smita Deshpande

Smita is on the Ericsson Cloud Marketing team and leads Product Marketing for Developer Platforms. Prior to Ericsson, Smita worked at VMware where she led Technical Partner Product Marketing for NSX, VMware’s network virtualization platform.

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