Layer 123 Network Transformation Congress: Status of Network Automation, Orchestration, Zero (or Low) Touch Provisioning, SDN & NFV


Disappointingly small number of deployments, many open source software and open API organizations (ONF, Linux Foundation, MEF, TM Forum, OCP, etc), pop-up consortiums (Cloud RAN, Open RAN, other disaggregated hardware), defunct standards organizations (e.g. ETSI, ITU-T, IEEE) that only produce functional requirements, reference architectures, and white papers or none of the above.  Nothing that can be actually implemented via standardized exposed interfaces or APIs.


Tuesday April 30th and Wednesday May 1st I spent the entire day and early evening at the Layer 1,2,3 Network Transformation Congress which assessed the state of SDN, NFV, Open Source MANO (OSM), Open APIs (TM Forum and MEF), other Open Source management software, and topics related to what network operators have been talking about for at least eight years- computer controlled network automation and orchestration of services (sometimes referred to as service chaining).  Contrary to the rah, rah cheerleader talk from a few network operators (especially AT&T), telco deployment of this new age open source software for automation and control of networks has been very slow.  NFV actual deployments are minimal (if not zero) and SDN has become a marketing term that can mean any software control of network functions.  Every network operator and cloud service provider uses different protocols, many of which they invented (e.g. Google’s routing protocol for DCI) along with  a sprinkling of open source code (such as a SDN Controller).

Decades of man years has been invested in network operator proprietary network management software, which is used to provision new services, keep track and maintain existing services, facilitate moves and changes.  One speaker said that he’d like to see light touch provisioning rather than zero touch.  Another said that they stack the new automation, provisioning and orchestration software on top of their legacy software

For the cloud giants (e.g. Amazon, Google, Tencent, etc), it has been done, but in almost a totally proprietary fashion with almost all the network automation, control and management done using in house generated code.  Amazon spoke at the conference and, in response to this author’s question, suggested the different types of network access for AWS.  Microsoft spoke, not about Azure but their private enterprise network which doesn’t use any open source code.  Moreover, it took two years to get 22 new sites connected via direct internet connections (<600M bit/sec) that would normally be served by copper lines (bonded DSL or short reach fiber).

Selected Quotes from Conference Participants:

Long time colleague Craig Matsumoto (whom I met when he was EE Times, but now at 451 Research) coined a new term during his presentation –  “software programmable interconnection” (SPI) for data centers.  Craig said: “We talk a lot about telcos. The question is what does network transformation mean for the data center world? What are they doing about it?  We came up with this new term, software programmable interconnection (SPI) . It’s basically about the idea that data centers connect with one another with a fabric.”  In this author’s opinion the SPI term captures the wide variety of software being used within and between data centers!

“For me covering data centers after covering telcos for so long, they’ve (data center operators) talked to me about using the SDN for pretty much anything that involved automation and the network. Anything that has software is SDN to them. We came up with a different term as a good way to encapsulate that some kind of software is being used that might or might not be SDN,”  Matsumoto added.

Tuesday’s keynote speaker and Wednesday moderator Roy Chua, Founder and Principal of AvidThink – a boutique market research firm:

“With regard to the key takeaways, I think you’ve captured them. I was very impressed at the level of candor in the discussions and presentations. I liked the concrete examples and quantification of NFV uptake challenges and the recognition that we need to solve constrained problems than try to boil the ocean. There was definitely good content…..Appreciate all the excellent questions and enjoyed the discussion at lunch. And I am most grateful for your endorsement of the analysis that I do.”

This author recommends only a select few (<5) networking market analysts that do primary market research.  Roy is one of those select few!

From Kaustubha Parkhi, Principal Analyst at Insight Research (a well respected Indian market research firm):

“There is no doubt that LSO [2] is essential. Equally essential is the pruning of its objectives and scope, which becomes a bit overwhelming at times. The objectives, in the present form are so broad-based that they cover everything from billing functions to network equipment deployment.”   –>More on LSO in a forthcoming IEEE Techblog article.

Note 2. LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) is the set of MEF-defined specifications enabling standardized service orchestration based on standardized lifecycles of end-to-end connectivity services across one or more network service domains.  A key contribution is open APIs – to automate the entire lifecycle for services orchestrated across multiple provider networks and multiple technology domains within a provider network.  LSO enables service providers to transition from a silo-structured BSS/OSS approach towards flexible end-to-end orchestration that unleashes the value of SDN and NFV.  Standardized LSO APIs are critical for enabling agile, assured, and orchestrated services over automated, virtualized, and interconnected networks worldwide.

                                                           Above illustration courtesy of MEF



I was pleasantly surprised by the honesty (if not brutal frankness) of the speakers.  What a refreshing change from the never ending hype, exaggeration and lies one hears at most networking conferences – including the IEEE 5G Summits :-((.

With over 20 pages of handwritten notes and so many important things revealed, I am not able to write a detailed conference summary report on this free website.  Hence, I solicit readers to email me what they’d like me to cover in future posts, after reading the conference agenda for Tuesday- Day 1 and Wednesday -Day 2.

Please remember that the IEEE Techblog does not accept advertisements so we can tell the real truth.  Also we don’t charge for viewing posts or comments (no pay wall).  Finally, this author has managed and contributed to this and predecessor website ( for over 10 years without any pay.

You may contact this author at:  [email protected]





–        DAY 1:

–        DAY 2:

–        FINAL ALL:


6 thoughts on “Layer 123 Network Transformation Congress: Status of Network Automation, Orchestration, Zero (or Low) Touch Provisioning, SDN & NFV

  1. Leading Lights 2019 Finalists: Most Innovative Automation Strategy

    Automation remains one of the buzzwords of the telecom industry as operators try to slash costs and improve customer services by phasing out more cumbersome manual processes. On the infrastructure and IT side, artificial intelligence, intent-based networking and the snappy sounding closed loop service assurance now hold out the promise of operations that are less bogged down by humans and all their various shortcomings.

    It is not just about shoring up those unemployment statistics, though. Future 5G networks will be far too complex for humans to manage, say the companies designing those networks. The automation of dull and repetitive tasks will “free up” engineers and technicians for more exciting activities, such as buying coffee and playing Fortnite. It could also produce telecom organizations that never had many employees performing dull and repetitive tasks in the first place — much as the Internet revolution gave rise to the likes of Amazon and Google.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is two such firms that make the shortlist for the Most Innovative Automation Strategy award: India’s Reliance Jio Infocomm and Japan’s Rakuten Mobile. Both operators have barged into bustling mobile markets in their respective countries and provided a blueprint for developing a highly automated network when legacy is not a constraint. Will investors in other parts of the world take note?

    Here are some details about the two shortlisted entries:

    1. Reliance Jio Infocomm (India)
    R-Jio’s impact on India’s mobile market has been well documented. Since arriving on the scene in late 2016, it has become one of the country’s biggest players and blamed for the disappearance of several older service providers. None of that would have been possible without R-Jio’s development of a cutting-edge mobile network that almost runs itself and can activate and update services in a fraction of the time it would take a less automated company. Thanks to its investment in automation technologies, R-Jio has been able to reduce the number of people staffing its network operations center from 400 to only 25, for instance. And the time it takes to roll out a new enterprise service has fallen from 90 days to just three. It is no wonder that service providers around the world see RJio as an example of what is ultimately possible with automation.

    2. Rakuten Mobile (Japan)
    One of the companies tracking RJio’s progress is Rakuten, a Japanese ecommerce player that is now building a mobile network with the aid of some former RJio executives. That network, says Rakuten, will adopt 5G systems architecture from launch and be the world’s first “cloud-native” network, fully virtualized and highly automated from the radio access network to the core. On the cost side, the reliance on “zero touch” automation systems promises a dramatic reduction in opex and time spent on technical activities. Rakuten believes the use of an open cloud platform architecture will lead to a 35% reduction in total cost of ownership, for instance. How it all works out, and what impact Rakuten will have on the Japanese mobile market, remains to be seen, but the company’s network plans have set tongues wagging throughout the entire industry.

  2. OSM (Open Source MANO) will be center stage at the Network Transformation Congress event

    OSM traces its roots back to Telefónica’s OpenMANO project, Canonical’s Juju generic VNF manager and’s orchestrator. OSM’s lineup of service provider members includes Amazon Web Services, BT, Bell Mobility, Sprint, Telenor, and Verizon. OSM’s vendor partners include ADVA, Canonical, Intel, Mavenir Systems, NetScout, Procera Networks and Sandvine.

    “I think it’s going to be a smaller, service provider-centric show,” said Roy Chua, founder and principal of research service AvidThink, who will deliver the introductory address tomorrow morning at the Network Transformation Congress. “I think it’s to be a lot around Telefónica and OSM’s progress. It’s going to be a mix of Telefónica, VMware and Intel with regard to OSM. So that’s going to be a big part of it fundamentally on the first day.

    Telefónica’s Francisco-Javier Ramón, head of virtualization and OSM chairman, will follow Chua to deliver his keynote address.

    In addition to OSM, Chua said NFVi’s role in network transformations would also be featured at the conference.

    “I think it’s going to be what’s reality, what have we learned, what elements work today, what elements don’t, and what is the gap between where we are and where we have to get to in practice to get to a fully transformed network,” Chua said.

    DriveNets’ Ofer Weill, director of product marketing, is also scheduled to speak at tomorrow’s conference. Cloud-native router startup DriveNets came out of stealth mode in February when it announced a $110 million first round of funding. Earlier this month, DriveNets announced its virtualized routing software, Network Cloud, can support 400G-per-port routing and be scaled up to a 768 Tbps, which DriveNets would make it the highest capacity router on the market.

    “There are some people pushing the boundaries into cloud-based routing because they feel that traditional routing with BGP (border gateway protocol) is too slow, and that we need a more intelligent layer,” Chua said. “DriveNets is one company that’s doing it. Some of the SD WAN companies are running their own core to try to improve connectivity with their own call over to the public Internet. Then there’s another company in that space called Mode that has a different way of approaching routing as well.

    “There are multiple approaches that claim a better, more efficient way of providing networking than traditional networking. We’ll see how that plays out.”

    As for the overall theme of network transformation, Chua said a transformation is underway at the bottom of the stack with the underlying virtualization layer that runs on the data center side of networks as well as core networks and the radio access network.

    “So, there’s going to be a transformation from the hardware side of things into a more open or disaggregated view,” he said. “Then from there, when you go up the stack, you would see more of the same thing. Transformation in a more SDN-way, a more virtualized transport network from the core network all the way to the edge as well.

    “Then, above that, the applications are going to be more containerized. The orchestration systems, whether it’s MANO or something else, will become more autonomous and more closed loop. The idea there being that as we get to scale, it’s going to be intent-based and it’s going to be policy driven. It (the network) is going to be more user-centric and more flexible. It’s going to be a mix of those things.”

  3. 5G brings great opportunities but requires a network transformation

    According to 451 Research, 12% of network operators expect to roll out 5G services in 2019, and an additional 86 percent expect to be delivering 5G services by 2021, according to a Vetiv survey of more than 100 global telecom decision makers with visibility into 5G and edge strategies and plans.

    The “Telco Study Reveals Industry Hopes and Fears: From Energy Costs to Edge Computing Transformation” research covers 5G deployment plans, services supported by early deployments, and the most important technical enablers for 5G success.

    According to the survey, those initial services will be focused on supporting existing data services (96 percent) and new consumer services (36 percent). About one-third of respondents (32 percent) expect to support existing enterprise services with 18 percent saying they expect to deliver new enterprise services.

    As networks continue to evolve and coverage expands, 5G itself will become a key enabler of emerging edge use cases that require high-bandwidth, low latency data transmission, such as virtual and augmented reality, digital healthcare, and smart homes, buildings, factories and cities.

    However, illustrating the scale of the challenge, the majority of respondents (68 percent) do not expect to achieve total 5G coverage until 2028 or later. Twenty-eight percent expect to have total coverage by 2027 while only 4 percent expect to have total coverage by 2025.

    “While telcos recognize the opportunity 5G presents, they also understand the network transformation required to support 5G services,” said Martin Olsen, vice president of global edge and integrated solutions at Vertiv.

    “This report brings clarity to the challenges they face and reinforces the role innovative, energy-efficient network infrastructure will play in enabling 5G to realize its potential.”

    To support 5G services, telcos are ramping up the deployment of multi-access edge computing (MEC) sites, which bring the capabilities of the cloud directly to the radio access network. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they are already deploying MEC infrastructure ahead of 5G deployments while an additional 47 percent intend to deploy MECs.

    As these new computing locations supporting 5G come online, the ability to remotely monitor and manage increasingly dense networks becomes more critical to maintaining profitability. In the area of remote management, data center infrastructure management (DCIM) was identified as the most important enabler (55 percent), followed by energy management (49 percent).

    Remote management will be critical, as the report suggests the network densification required for 5G could require operators to double the number of radio access locations around the globe in the next 10-15 years.

    The survey also asked respondents to identify their plans for dealing with energy issues today and five years in the future when large portions of the network will be supporting 5G, which 94 percent of participants expect to increase network energy consumption. Among the key findings:

    Reducing AC to DC conversions will continue to be an area of emphasis, with 79 percent of respondents saying this is a focus today and 85 percent saying it will be a focus five years from now.
    New cooling techniques will see the biggest jump in adoption over the next five years. Currently being used by 43 percent of telcos worldwide, this number is expected to increase to 73 percent in five years.
    Upgrades from VRLA to lithium-ion batteries also show significant growth. Currently, 66 percent of telcos are upgrading their batteries. Five years from now, that number is projected to jump to 81 percent.
    “5G represents the most impactful and difficult network upgrade ever faced by the telecom industry,” said Brian Partridge, research vice president for 451 Research.

    “In general, the industry recognizes the scale of this challenge and the need for enabling technologies and services to help it maintain profitability by more efficiently managing increasingly distributed networks and mitigating the impact of higher energy costs.”

  4. by Marco Carugi, ITU Expert for many years

    Network softwarization [Y.3100]: Overall approach for designing, implementing, deploying, managing and
    maintaining network equipment and/or network components by software programming
    Various drivers of Network softwarization:
    o cheap HW performance, powerful terminals and things
    o Open Source SW availability
    o actionable Big Data and AI/ML advances
    Network softwarization is paving the way towards X-as-a-Service
    o SDN Controllers, Virtual Network Functions and End Users’ apps as “services” Network functions become flexible
    o New components can be instantiated on demand (e.g. dedicated network dynamic setup)
    o Components may change location or size (e.g. deployment at edge nodes, resource reallocation)
    o Communication paths may change (e.g. service aware networking, chained user plane functions)
    o “Network services” are provisioned by using network functions instantiated at the right time and right location
    o Enabling network/service architectures (re-)design, cost and process optimization, self-management
    o Network programability but also increased complexity [impact on network management]

    Softwarization is embedded across all network layers by leveraging SDN, NFV, Edge and Cloud Computing
    See also ITU-T Y.3150

  5. Orchestration and automation are most sought after initiatives for CSP’s specially due to fact it will support to reduce carrier CAPEX/OPEX and enable them to get things done in software way. However, without a clear industry coalesce between SDO’s (Linux Foundation ONAP and ETSI OSM) and carriers efforts also divided between multiple schools it looks like a nightmare. For example, early deployments of NFVO proved fact that big vendor Orchestration solutions are only using open source software on front end while back end is still done in same old fashion .Similarly the Licensing and VNF/NS management is not truly agile.

    On the one hand it is true that the Orchestration piece needs to be optimized, but on other hand after lots of experience and field trials it seems neither ONAP and not OSM alone can fulfill all requirements as one Lego piece and Industry need to define and stitch the best Lego blocks from each.

    In current phase of Orchestration we think we focused too much on LCM (Life Cycle Management) tasks and limited O&M monitoring. That makes the solutions fragile. To move forward we need set the right principles, so as to ensure Orchestration is totally modular so that we can use components from different vendors and the network service is simple to design. Day2 automation is key for long term success. This is where we think the focus should be to ensure we do not fall in the same trap as we did for NFV hype earlier.

    1. Day-2 Automation Rule:

      When performing any manual task — ask yourself:

      Have I (or anyone on the team) done this at least once before?
      If the answer is yes, even if it’s only the second time you do this — automate it!

      Following this super-simple rule isn’t that simple. But if you ingrain it into your engineering culture, if as a team leader you make sure the rule is followed and enforced — the gains are worth it.

      Teams that implemented this rule saw 20–30% improvement in productivity, efficiency and job satisfaction.

      Also see:

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