Network service orchestration by Emilija Filiposka Velichkovska

The growing need for telecommunication services has been particularly perceived during the Covid-19 pandemic, currently they are considered essential in all public and private domains i.e., (smart) homes, schools, offices, data centers, hospitals, industries, etc.

In essence simpler and smoother work execution is based on improved Internet services relating to better transfer of files in offices, offering stable connectivity for virtual meetings/classes, reliable online transactions and remote device controls. Over time people have started trusting and depending on these services for their day-to-day uses necessities and even shaping them according to their personalized needs. 

Every passed hour customers come to expect better experiences in every sense especially considering quality, performance, customized solutions etc., and as the number of services and mobile devices with advanced computing and multimedia capabilities is increasing, the demand for more capable and intelligent networks is also growing. To address these requirements for agility and flexibility, several trends are shaping the telecom industry in the 2020-ties: 5G deployment and expansion, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning increased reliability, moving from IoT to the era of Internet of (Almost) Everything, moving from cloud to edge computing, etc. By leveraging emerging technologies with enormous potential to change our lives via personalized customer experience, fast network expansion and reliable infrastructure management, telecoms aim to remain one of the core drivers of digital humanity, boosting global world productivity.

Defining Network Service Orchestration

Technological evolution in cloud computing, Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) allow new methods on how telecom operators can plan, design, deploy and manage their services. With the introduction of virtualization, orchestration and automation, operators are becoming increasingly software oriented. New responsibilities of the IT teams emerged covering a massive infrastructure (e.g. server farms) and significant number of applications, hence handling this manually isn’t feasible and lacks a strategic approach. Henceforth, drivers of the network service orchestration are directed to automated configuration (covering the need), management, and coordination of computer systems, applications, and services. Moreover, IT teams will be empowered with tools for efficient and effective management of complex workflows and tasks.

The Orchestration significance derived from symphony orchestra encompassing a set of instruments that produce music in accordance with specific arrangement. Different musical instruments are combined and organized in a unified performance, as a consequence of orchestration and instrumentation of various small parts and divisions from the musical notation. The division of who does what and when is of great essence for excellence, sense synchronicity is of utmost importance for achievement of the desired effect. Likewise, a network orchestrator coordinates and organizes the tasks of different blocks engaged in the management of a network service.

In practice orchestration commonly is equated with automation, however these terms are very different in its purpose. Network service orchestration carries out automation to the next level. In essence, network orchestration is a policy-driven approach to network automation that coordinates the hardware and software components required to run a software application or service. While automation deals with smaller tasks, while orchestration deals with workflows, or processes that combine multiple small tasks to achieve a goal defined with a policy. The quote by Ivan Pepelnjak, “Network Automation = Squeezing Grapes” and “Network Orchestration = Making wine” captures this higher level of orchestration compared to the automation.

The role of the Network Service Orchestration in OSS

First, we need to understood the term OSS operation support system, is it an orchestrator by itself in some way?

OSS is a system composed of a set of applications that supports telco operators in the management of services, resources, customers, and related process and activities. It also manages the complete network rollout from perspective of design, build, operation and maintenance.  A lot of workflows are part of it in the background, so in a way yes, it is an orchestrator by itself. But, as the Telco equipment is advancing and becoming more software oriented, orchestration becomes a real need not a luxury. There are tasks that need to be executed in a fraction of second and in order to meet the demands of providing agile dynamic network services it is necessary to use orchestration to manage every aspect of the service lifecycle. With the evolution of SDN and NFV, the rapid expansion of software in the telco environment becomes even more demanding, and to meet the faster response time requirements, orchestration systems began to be distributed – out into the network and in some cases at the very edge.

The introduction of orchestration is perceived by OSS vendors both as a threat and as an opportunity. Traditional, workload, manual concepts and solutions increasingly have been replaced by automated and orchestration powered alternatives. On the other hand, such alternatives create an opportunity to expand their footprint and provide next-generation to rise above the other traditional competitors. Combining traditional OSS functionality with new orchestration capabilities are a new focus on some vendors to advance their position.  

Network service orchestration can be seen as an evolved OSS component with a wider range of tasks. To guarantee efficiency and sustainability, it needs to be model driven with declarative workflows and active inventory across the entire domain with ability to automatically discover all events in the domain in real-time or near real-time. Using a standardized data model for all functional OSS components together with an easily accessible programable interface that enables triggering the actions of each separate OSS component, paves the way of using orchestration to define agile workflows that will manage all service-related actions such as service fulfilment or service assurance.

The highest level of standardization of the orchestration processes provides a common way to describe the full portfolio of network services and define all service actions using a small set of flexible workflows. This approach offers not only fully automated management of network services which significantly increases the production efficiency, but also eliminates all human error and increases the overall reliability and stability of the system as a whole. Since the orchestration workflows include service qualification actions such as checking if all necessary resources are available or if the customer has the sufficient funds and/or rights to request the service, this means that the whole process of service delivery from inquiry to ready to use provisioned service is dramatically faster from the customer point of view. But, of course, to be able to accomplish this, the service orchestrator needs to be able to request information from and activate distinct functions in many OSS components such as service and resource inventory, service and resource catalogues, order management, provisioning systems, etc.

Orchestration has different roles in different companies, although they share equal benefits such as reduction of operational costs, shorter time to market, elimination of human errors, provision of a single view to users and increased automation within their business processes.

From a Network Service Orchestration perspective, both OSS and orchestration tools are well established in their particular functionality. 

Furthermore, telecom operators neither are going to abandon their investments in the OSS, nor leave their well-defined process/procedures as well as accumulated knowledge and skills performed by IT teams.  

At present, a new complex system emerges based on synergies of both OSS and orchestration, shaped towards specific individual telco’s needs and expectations, while the future brings unlimited possibilities of evolved intelligent systems with state-of-the-art capabilities.

by Emilija Filiposka Velichkovska, Project Manager, Telecom