December 2020 News

Automation moves up the agenda

As we look forward to what 2021 brings, Contributing Editor Annie Turner rounds up the highlights from December – the end of a truly remarkable year in telecoms.

Valmet, a Finnish industrial technology company, announced it has chosen Finnish operator Elisa as its prime partner to provide a global SD-WAN and related security services.  It is provided from the operator’s Network Operation Centre (NOC) close to Valmet’s roots working closely with Vodafone Business and a global network of partners. Elisa said its solution enables Valmet´s business to grow “through new digitalised services and customer experiences,” and is “one of the world’s most automated network solutions”.

The solution manages services beyond the physical networks to provide global network management and monitoring. In cooperation with Vodafone Business, Elisa is monitoring and managing data traffic on Valmet’s network and local area networks in more than 150 locations on five continents.

Janne Puustinen, CIO, Valmet, commented, “The overall solution offered by Elisa and Vodafone Business met our ambitious needs …Our objective was to find a global solution that would be as comprehensive as possible to support a shift from a typical corporate network-centric operating environment towards a cloud enabled global digital platform”.

In December, Forrester Research report confirmed the increasing importance of SD-WAN, saying: “As legacy WAN architecture becomes less effective for multi cloud environments, flexible, cloudlike services models that mask the complexity of underlays and switching will dictate which providers lead the pack.”

Vodafone leads in SD-WAN

According to the Forrester Wave report on software-defined WANs, Valmet made a wise decision. It evaluated 10 providers of SD-WAN services against 30 criteria, under three high-level headings; current offers, strategy and market presence. It deduced Vodafone is the leader of the pack (with Orange Business Services as its nearest rival): “With multiple SD-WAN platforms and security integration across each, customers can focus on finding the right one for their unique applications and the traffic entering and leaving their remote sites. Global organizations that have a strong presence in EMEA and Asia and need deep SD-WAN expertise should consider Vodafone.”

No expected increase in jobs – yet

Automation and AI are not living up to the oft repeated maxim that they will create as many jobs in the telecom sector as they destroy, according to Iain Morris of Light Reading. At the end of 2020, he cited research carried out by Light Reading which looked at the collective workforce of 20 major service providers headquartered in Europe and North America.

He found their staff numbers shrank by more than 48,000 in 2019 – about 3% of the total. This trend continued in the first nine months of 2020 at many operators, with the headcount down 5% at AT&T and Telecom Italia, 8% at Lumen Technologies (formerly CenturyLink) and more than 9% at KPN in the Netherlands, compared with December 2019 figures.

Automation high on the agenda

On a more upbeat note, “Automating the increasingly complex network and service management environment has become a major priority for CSPs, along with the AI and data management capabilities required to support this,” writes Kris Szaniawski, Practice Leader, Omdia, in his report, 2021 Trends to Watch: Telecom Operations and IT.

According to Omdia’s enterprise ICT surveys, nearly 80% of CSPs see the use of AI/analytics to automate network activities as an “important” or “very important” IT project for 2021, and almost 60% of the CSPs surveyed are planning to increase investment in AI tools. 

CSPs’ top use cases for AI include network fault prediction and prevention, automating end-to-end lifecycle management, and managing network slicing.

Juniper intends to acquire Apstra

Juniper Networks announced its intent to aquire Apstra to expand “its data centre leadership with best-in-class, intent-based networking and closed loop assurance” – in other words, to drive automation deeper into its data centre networking platform with runs on the Junos operating system and thereby better compete against Cisco in the intent-based networking segment.

For the third year in a row, Juniper, in June 2020, Cisco and Arista Networks appeared in the Leader quarter of Gartner’s magic quadrant for data centre and cloud networking, but during that time, Cisco has remained well ahead of the other two, and Arista has pulled away from Juniper.

Gartner coined the term “intent-based networking” in 2017. The idea is to describe a network’s business objective, then IT professionals design policies that auto-prescribe how to satisfy that goal, and automate at scale. Apstra is a pioneer in this field – it’s founder and CEO David Cheriton will join Juniper as its Chief Data Center Scientist.

Apstra takes a distributed systems-level approach to data centre networking and fabric automation, from initial design to deployment and through everyday management operations. Its software define data centres’ behaviour and provide continuous assurance that the network operations and experiences match that intent, and responds to the demands of dynamic workloads and service requests.

According to the Gartner Top 10 Technologies That Will Drive the Future of Infrastructure and Operations report, published October 2019, “A full IBNS [intent-based networking system] implementation will reduce the time to deliver network infrastructure services to business leaders by 50% to 90%”.

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