Future-ready telecom OSS: Simplified, seamless, cloud-based systems
Telecom networks are changing at an unprecedented rate, and operations support system (OSS) landscapes must evolve just as rapidly if communication service providers are to remain competitive.
Key drivers in the OSS evolution
After years of rapid change and growth, many of today’s OSS landscapes are complex and siloed. Legacy applications don’t offer the flexibility or interoperability needed for software-based network environments; related manual activities are too costly and slow for the digital age. As communication service providers (CSPs) evolve into cloud-native digital service providers, the future of telecom networks lies in the cloud. OSS cloudification is essential for the fast, agile, scalable, efficient and automated service provisioning and monitoring required by advanced technologies like IoT, 5G and multi-edge computing (MEC). OSS cloudification is essential for the fast, agile, scalable, efficient and automated service provisioning and monitoring required by advanced technologies like IoT, 5G and multi-edge computing (MEC).
Rationalize and modernize
Crucially, moving OSS to the cloud is also an opportunity to rationalize and modernize the OSS application landscape.
However, the reality is that the OSS cloudification process can be complex and requires careful planning and management on an application-by-application basis.
Moving OSS to the cloud is an opportunity to rationalize and modernize the OSS application landscape, but the OSS cloudification process can be complex and requires careful planning and management.
CSPs must consider the following criteria:
- Security: OSS applications have high levels of security and data requirements, with many currently residing on their own isolated networks
- Connectivity and latency: OSS applications are strictly connected with the networks they manage, many of which are transactional systems requiring very low latency
Moreover, the timing of cloudification can be a critical factor. A typical dilemma for CSPs is: “Should I migrate my OSS applications to the cloud when I know I’ll soon have to replace them?”
That’s why the only cloudification option for legacy systems due for retirement in the next few years is to be replaced.
Greenfield vs. brownfield
Cloud adoption is easier when implementing OSS systems from scratch, but the scenario is quite different in a brownfield situation. For example, a cloud-based (possibly also SaaS) model is quite clearly the preferred option for new 5G uses cases.
Across brownfield legacy OSS application estates, decisions are much more nuanced. Depending on the function, type of application and the data it holds, some applications cannot be moved. Others may need to be migrated over time.
A process of discovery and analysis employing a decision factory is needed to identify whether, how, and when applications should be cloudified. It must take into account all business and data dependencies, to synchronize across both cloud and non-cloud systems and avoid any operational disruptions.
Target cloud environment
Depending on the cost/benefit analysis and business case for cloud, CSPs can shape the most cost-efficient cloud environment with the necessary data security and sovereignty. The telco cloud market is evolving, and Atos is working with hyperscalers and OSS vendors at different stages in terms of the applications they can support natively in the cloud.
The cloud environment a CSP chooses will also depend on the level of support that custom OSS application vendors can provide. Some of them are cloud-agnostic, while others require specific on-premises or cloud environments.
One issue that cloud can help CSPs address is OSS vendor lock-in. Bare metal as a service plays a key role in providing more flexible cloud solutions for applications that are not ready or suitable for moving to hybrid cloud. At the same time, CSPs also want to avoid being locked into specific cloud providers, which is why multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments are most preferable.
Finally, there is the issue of cost. Cloud financial engineering should be addressed very carefully to get the best out of this transformation — considering all possible pre- and post-migration variables while avoiding unpleasant surprises in the medium and long term.
Alongside cloudification, there is a drive for OSS integration to enable operators with TM Forum’s best practices, guidelines and standards. These include the BSS/OSS cloudification guide, open digital architecture and open application programming interfaces (APIs) to support new networks and the arrival of 5G and edge.
Other industry initiatives and consortiums like ONAP and OSM are defining open source and cloud-native network management and orchestration platforms, which are used as reference architectures by CSPs and vendors.
Integrating new cloud-native applications without touching legacy systems is common. Global standards should be used as reference, for example, to integrate a cloud-native multi-domain orchestration engine with a selection of legacy OSS systems. Exposing APIs is the key to enabling application-to-application communications and serves as the foundation for zero-touch operations. APIs can enable automation in the service assurance domain, for instance.
We’re still at the start
The transformation roadmap must be defined in collaboration with the CSPs, their cloud providers and digital partners. It’s important to note that cloudification is not just about the technologies. New skills, new processes and new mindsets are crucial to building a truly cloud-first organization. Therefore, it is important to design and implement the necessary change management.
Migration to cloud need not be a big bang undertaking. The precise timing, staging and interdependences will depend on the CSP. For example, a large multinational dealing with various business and application landscapes across the globe after a merger or acquisition may require specific consolidation and harmonization imperatives.
We’re seeing CSPs looking to their partner ecosystems for the expertise to guide, support, secure and accelerate their transformation roadmaps. Across the global telecom industry, many OSS transformation programs are still incomplete. The arrival of 5G and MEC will provide a great incentive to focus and accelerate these mission-critical journeys.