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Interview: Dan Pitt on Network Management

Ahead of the Network Management Show 2014, we've been interviewing our speakers to get their views on the hot topics.

This week we spoke to Dan Pitt, Executive Director, Open Networking Foundation, who will be discussing 'SDN: The key to consistent, unified management of diverse networks' on Day Two of the event.

Why is network management important in the telecom industry today?

For as long as the telecom industry has existed, the network has been its main investment and its main source of revenue. Network management is just the careful stewarding of this precious resource that represents the lifeblood of the business. When properly executed, network management enables the network operator to maximize revenue at minimal cost. In the Open Networking Foundation, we work to provide network operators with much more effective tools for network management and control. Our focus on software-defined networking (SDN) directly contributes to both the minimizing of costs and the maximizing of revenue.

Where do you see most innovation happening in the network today?

The most innovative development in the network today is the value shift from hardware to software. We all agree that hardware is often the optimal solution for moving traffic through the network, but enlightened operators understand that software under their control and not running in the network hardware provides them the most flexibility for service innovation and for reduction of both opex and capex.

Is how you manage your network an opportunity for differentiation for telecom operators?

The main opportunity for differentiation for telecom operators is in the creation and offering of novel services that generate revenue and attract customers. Creative service velocity relies on a combination of capabilities: flexible but basically generic hardware in the network, operator-unique software under the control of the operator that defines customer-facing services, and network management and control technologies for directing the network hardware to behave in a manner that implements the desired services. These technologies include network monitoring to gauge the state and condition of the network, analysis and orchestration software to translate service definitions into network behaviors, and network control protocols to direct the network hardware appropriately. ONF helps define these protocols.

How do you guarantee the customer experience?

For decades, telecom service providers focused on the sole metric of network availability, often expressed as .99999 (referred to as “five nines”). That worked fine when the only telecom service was telephony. Now that telecom operators offer a wide range of services, quality of experience is an increasingly important measure of service effectiveness. Assurance of quality of experience depends on several factors. An often overlooked one involves human factors and psychology, which are tied to subscriber expectations and are highly application-specific. Probably the operator’s greatest weapon in assuring the desired customer experience is the advancement of computer science, in particular multicore computing, distributed-systems software, and virtualization, as a much greater component of the customer experience takes place in servers rather than in the network than in even the recent past. Finally, the unrelenting surge in network traffic impels the operator to do everything possible to have bandwidth available where and when an application or a service needs it. Operators can no longer afford to overprovision every link in their network or in their data centers. Among their most effective tools to avoid overprovisioning are network virtualization and SDN.

Can operators look at trends such as SDN, Big Data, and network sharing in isolation or must they consider the wider Network Management perspective?

Disruptive technologies typically take time for their deployers to learn enough about them to deploy them effectively. SDN (and probably the other technologies mentioned) represents such a dramatic change in how to even think about networks that its ultimate impact will span much more than network management. Therefore, we recommend that network operators experiment with SDN on a small scale and (as they gain expertise) apply it to their most pressing problems. Different parts of a network operator’s business will undoubtedly have different ideas of how to exploit the new technologies. For the network management team, SDN, Big Data, and network sharing will all be tools to leverage, often together, but only after they are better understood. We recommend that network operators get started right away to explore the potential benefits of SDN, as the two dozen operators who are members of SDN are already doing.

If you are interested in attending The Network Management Show you can find out more here.
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