It was summer 2012 and I was in a small discussion with some very bright and very knowledgeable network engineers. The topic was service management and, in particular, whether one should have a standardized method of managing a Carrier Ethernet Network (CEN) or a standardized outcome of managing a Carrier Ethernet Network.
In other words, a transparent level of management that could be easily exposed, demonstrated, perhaps even certified for the outside world, versus a more Machiavellian approach where "ends" justify the "means" -- and the "how" of external network-based SLAs (or internal service level objectives) -- as long as they are achieved, is up to the operator. You can imagine there was quite a difference of opinion in this small group, and that's when one individual expressively stated his opinion: "What goes on in the CEN, stays in the CEN!"
This phrase makes for a great bumper sticker or t-shirt, no doubt, but it is also a very poignant sentiment as it represents a fundamental turning point in how the communications service provider industry functions. If you've ever worked with a CSP attempting to connect to remote offices that were off-net (i.e., out-of-franchise) you'd often find a number of separate, heavily caveated SLAs related to those connections. Due to the siloed nature of each provider's network and related operations, there was little ability to enable one provider to guarantee the performance of another provider's access network, short of using a contract that acted as a proverbial hammer, with strict penalties for any customer-impacting incident.
As Carrier Ethernet took hold, service became more standardized, but each administrative domain was still very opaque to the outside. Providers that needed to answer to their customers would place NIDs at the far end of their off-net access providers' sites to verify the service they contracted actually delivered what they needed. In some cases, one could find up to three of these devices in line, as one verified the customer link, the second verified the transit provider's and the third verified the local access provider. Consider the power, space and operational complexity of installations and the break/fix procedures for these three, independently owned units this approach creates and you'll quickly ask yourself, "Perhaps there is a better way?"
Perhaps there is, but this means taking a different approach than the myopic, mono-operator management processes that govern the industry today. And if you're looking for a driver, look no further than the Third Network, a vision for a guaranteed, assured, dynamic and linked set of networks that can provide high-value business and consumer services for a price. The price reflects the value of that guarantee, but to make this happen the industry needs to add some transparency to these guarantees and to the service management. With certified services and service types, the industry has the building blocks to begin.
An Axis of Agreement
By agreeing to measure performance with standard metrics, providers eliminate translation problems, ambiguity and confusion.
The next step is agreeing to measure performance using the same standard metrics, so there's no translation, ambiguity or confusion. That also means RFPs can be simplified on both sides. For example, "Do you support the MEF specification type X, with the following values?" as opposed to detailed specifications of metrics, collection and reporting elements. Once that is complete, stakeholders must easily share this information and deliver the subscriber's end-to-end service, from access to transit to service provider.
The MEF has been working on many of these elements, first starting with its performance-monitoring best practices and implementation agreements (MEF specification 35, now 35.1, with 36 and 39). Those that have adopted these specifications can at least agree on what and how to measure, but we're now involved in the multi-portal management challenges. One service provider maintaining one subscriber's service may have to review a multitude of access provider portals displaying performance data and SLA compliance, unique to those providers' networks to assess and troubleshoot performance impairments for their subscribers. That's not operationally efficient, to say the least, and it still implies a need for multiple stacked NIDs at the remote ends. (See MEF Builds Digital Economy on the Third Network.)
Fortunately, as adoption grows and attitudes change, we can expect to see not only agreements on how operators can partner to connect, but partner to serve. The dial-tone worked quite well in its time for voice communications. Perhaps it's time to set up a dial-tone for the Third Network.
— Christopher Cullan, Director of Product Marketing, Business Service Solutions, InfoVista. Special to The New IP