Network management and network optimization are critical elements of internet service provider (ISP) operations. The following offers insight in these functions.
Network management is a set of processes and practices used by service providers and enterprise network managers to administer and manage networks. Network management touches every aspect of the network operation and often includes several well-defined and highly optimized set of workflows. These workflows vary depending on the type of the services the ISP offer, and the range of technologies and equipment involved for enabling the offering. These functions usually can be categorized in the following groups:
This includes all activities required for initial setup of service to the customer. There is a high degree of dependence to the type of service provided. For example, for a fixed line access network, this could include:
- running copper or fiber to the customer premises
- setting up the equipment
- creating accounts on relevant internal IT systems for authentication and administration
- setting up the billing system, building proper data routes
- certifying that the service is established and is operational
The workflows for these processes are often well defined and highly automated at large ISPs.
Despite this high degree of automation, certain aspects of this process could become quite challenging for operators. For example, deciding on the proper range of service options for customers could be quite challenging in situations where the transmission technology imposes limits due to distance, quality of transmission lines or noise characteristics of the environment. While an operator’s highly automated processes are designed to handle a large majority of cases efficiently, a small number of customers may experience long delays and failed attempts at establishing their service. They may also experience poor quality at the beginning of their subscription with the operator or after service upgrade to higher rate services. While operators may choose to employ a conservative approach to minimize the likelihood of such incidents, they may lose business advantage to their more aggressive competitors or fail to monetize their investment to the full extent possible by refusing to offer higher priced services that the customer may purchase.
This generally includes collection, storage and analysis of a large variety of data from every element in operator’s network. The goal of this process is to ensure continuity of service, monitor the health of systems, identify and address large scale issues – as well as to provide visibility to network managers for troubleshooting. Network operation centers (NOC) generally collect and monitor a wide selection of network parameters in different segments of the network. This allows the providers to ensure critical network infrastructure equipment operate as intended and generate proper alarms and notifications when equipment malfunctions or are under excessive load pressure.
Monitoring also enables tracking of key network KPIs and allows network managers to identify weak areas of the network that could benefit from equipment upgrades and new investment. SNMP protocol is commonly used to interface with different network elements and is widely used for collecting data from equipment. Collected data is frequently used to generate alarms and notifications for corresponding organizations in charge of different segments of the network.
Fault Management and Customer Care:
Issues arise in different parts of the network – and depending on their scope, they could affect a single customer, a particular geographical area, or impact vast segments of the network. Identifying the correct scope of the problem and affected areas is a key aspect of the troubleshooting process. An issue on the core network is expected to affect several customers and there is a high likelihood the operator will receive many complaints from affected customers. To address these issues properly, the provider should be able to identify the issue as a network outage problem rather than trying to individually troubleshoot affected customers. Network outage issues are generally identified quickly as relevant equipment is constantly monitored and redundancy is usually built into core network functions. This approach reduces the likelihood of total network failures. However, identifying and troubleshooting issues that are affecting individual customers would likely be far more difficult. There are multiple reasons for this. First, the nature of issues affecting customer’s physical layer performance could be very varied and time-varying as well. Second, several different problems could have similar impact on experience of the customer and it is difficult to pinpoint the exact root cause of the problem simply based on customer’s comments. Third, an operator’s visibility to customer premises equipment is fairly limited and this makes monitoring and troubleshooting processes more difficult. In environments where the network operator and physical plant owner are different companies, additional issues arise as two where the fault is located and who is responsible for addressing it.
Considering that the vast majority of issues reported to operators stem from customers’ environments, establishing proper procedures for identifying and addressing these issues is of utmost importance. Unfortunately, it is common that the issue cannot be remotely identified or addressed and requires a technician visit to customer’s home. This is costly and frequently fails to appropriately identify and address the underlying issue due to lack of proper data, especially if the problem is transient in nature.
Network optimization refers to a set of practices to ensure proper operation of the network at different times and in response to time varying changes. Some of these practices are static in nature. For example, a growing network area with higher traffic demand may require a stronger backbone network to handle the growing traffic – which may require investment in new equipment and transmission lines. Some other practices require dynamically adjusting and tuning some network parameters in response to network’s changing behavior. For example, Wi-Fi routers interfering with a customer’s Wi-Fi network frequently change and may require adjustments to the channel or band the customer is using. Another example is a change in the level and characteristics of noise on a customer’s DSL line which could be due to a change in electromagnetic interference or change in the cross-talk level due to the addition of new customers in the same binder or cable serving the customer. These time variations make the network a dynamic environment and will require constant monitoring and frequent tuning in response to these changes.
ASSIA’s Approach to the Problem
ASSIA’s products strive to address existing gaps in areas of network management and network optimization. While core backhaul networks have enjoyed from a strong and robust set of tools for monitoring and optimization over the past decade, the access side of the network has not seen a robust set of monitoring and optimization tools. This is even though the access environment is very complex due to the variety of different access technologies and the diversity of scenarios that could affect the customer’s experience of service.
ASSIA’s products employ a deep understanding of the physical layer of different access technologies, including DSL, Fiber and Wi-Fi, and employ an array of statistical analysis to identify issues and perform actions to alleviate the impact of those issues without human intervention. ASSIA’s DSL Expresse, GPON Expresse and CloudCheck products collect and maintain a large set of data and analyze variation of these parameters over time to identify issues that may not be present or visible at a particular instance of time. Such analysis is not in the purview of chipsets or communication equipment due to the required memory and processing power. Further, collected data and time analysis of collected data allows operators to use appropriate data in various work flows allowing improved performance and data-driven decision-making.
While network optimization remains a critical part of ASSIA’s products, these software solutions are also progressively becoming a more and more critical part of the network management suite as operators find creative use cases for the data and analytics results. Today, much of the provisioning of many DSL operators are based on the service recommendations of DSL Expresse, and many operators use DSL Expresse, GPON Expresse and CloudCheck for monitoring their network and troubleshooting their reported customer issues. While physical layer optimization continues to remain a critical function of ASSIA’s software suite, network management functions over the years have become equally important and central to operation and success of many of ASSIA’s customers.