Network Analysts and Consultants
"We Have the Experience"
ViewsLetter on Provisioning August 2002
EXAMPLES OF HOW SOFTWARE
HOLDS A SYSTEM TOGETHER
"Everything over IP" is the utopia of the moment, so it seems appropriate
to begin a series of issues devoted to specific products with a look
the Internet Protocol (IP) level. TeleGea, Inc. and Atreus Systems offer
products that exemplify the migration to fully automated provisioning
-- TeleGea's Emporium is the customer-facing Web portal and "Accelerator
Platform" (TGAP) coordinates operations within the Service Provider (SP).
Data sheets in PDF format are available at
-- Atreus has xAuthority, a product that deals with "services" on an
Emporium User Portal
It's a catalog, it's an order entry system, and it manages customer
account information. For the customer, it's instant access to what
customers want most: the ability to modify existing services by adding
removing features. For the SP, automating changes does more than reduce
labor content (thus cutting costs). Less manual intervention also reduces
errors--or at least puts responsibility for errors on the customer.
The greater value added by automation is speedy response--almost instant
gratification for the customer who wants more bandwidth or a higher
Quality of Service (Qos). Responsiveness and any-time access are things
SP might charge for.
Let's go further into automation and say the this SP will allow a new
customer to establish service through Emporium. The responsiveness is
same: the order entry process takes only minutes. If the SP has
automated the remainder of the provisioning process, the new service
be working in about the same time frame.
Part of the speed in response comes from pre-defining services and
packages. A "bundle" is easy for a customer to select. Using TeleGea's
developer's tool kit the SP, that bundle triggers a process to inform
other software and management systems how to deliver what the customer
TGAP picks up where Emporium leaves off. This software--which we might
characterize as middleware--converts high-level instructions (customer
has ordered bundle Y at site Z) into more specific instructions for other
systems. The originating instructions may arrive from Emporium, a
traditional order entry system, or from a partner company over a
TGAP interprets received instructions using a store of definitions for
services, features, tasks, and actions. It checks interdependency rules.
Then it selects a template to apply to the data model. Out of that
a series of more specialized instructions, in a "middleware" format,
are translated by "adapters" (software modules) into formats tailored
specific jobs in the business process (BP).
BP is the main correlation center for the product. A workflow engine
draws on (and puts new information into) directories, relational
databases, and a metadata structure that unites all customer information
under the scope of TGAP. Workflow proceeds out through other adapters
each network element, network management system, or Operation and Support
System (OSS) such as billing.
TGAP operates at the IP level, usually in situations where basic IP
connectivity exists. The added features might be a firewall, a Qos level,
or some other service as defined by the SP through the tool kit. Through
the workflow process, TGAP can request lower layer services, such as
connection oriented connection at Layer 1 or Layer 2. However, this
product isn't positioned to manage completely those lower layers.
TeleGea provides specialized adapters for many purposes:
-- direct command line input to routers and switches,
-- higher level commands to network management interfaces such as CORBA
and SNMP, and
-- back office systems such as billing and inventory.
The developers tool kit includes these adapters, and graphical
applications to create new adapters.
xAuthority on IP
A "service fulfillment OSS" is what Atreus calls its software.
Functionally, Atreus portrays xAuthority in the middle of the SP's
activities (see figure at
xA can provide a full
web portal, but Atreus prefers that SPs build the tool kit and its
components into a custom web site. The tool kit gives subscribers
self-service access to configure and administer the services provided
xA. A web developer would add on the presentation layer in an SP's unique
style, or fit the service activation function into an existing web site.
xA addresses OSS auto-provisioning functions at the "service" level of
Telecommunications Management Network (TMN) model. On an IP network,
those functions include configuration of IP connectivity (DHCP to assign
IP addresses, RADIUS servers for authentication of users, local DNS
entries, and activation of IP connectivity over a DSL link) to tiered
services with variable bandwidth, managed VPNs, firewalls, and hosted
and collaboration services. xA does not specifically address lower layers
such as frame relay, ATM, or TDM circuits, but can interwork with other
systems to complete the provisioning.
Atreus started in VPNs for hotels and multi-tenant units (MTUs) by
providing the customer premises equipment (CPE) as well. Now they
concentrate on the OSS to automate IP service activation at the network
edge. xA supports auto-provisioning via a Graphical User Interface (GUI),
starting with the creation of new service offerings in the Service
Description Module. The SP defines business and configuration attributes
of a service just once, with the activation process that instructs the
Service Drivers how to communicate with the element managers that
configure the hardware in the network. The combination of a service
portal and these pre-defined services can create a fully automated
provisioning and fulfillment process--a new experience for most
In the future they have plans to expand the configuration capabilities
put new users on additional services such as unified messaging, packet
voice (voice over IP, VoIP), video, and what ever else comes along.
Three Cheers for GUI
TGAP includes an important feature that will be (if it isn't already)
essential to automating the provisioning process: easy-to-use graphical
user interfaces (GUIs). A GUI replaces the command line interface (CLI)
found on almost all networking devices. Many network engineers express
preference for the CLI, saying it gives them more, and more direct,
control of the device. This is true, today, because most hardware vendors
develop the GUI after the CLI. This means that a fast-changing product
will be shipped with some features that only the CLI can reach.
This is a problem, in our opinion, for many reasons. Delaying the GUI:
-- perpetuates the need for the CLI, and the expensive training needed
-- prevents universal deployment of procedures based on the simpler GUI;
-- prolongs the era in which SPs need to configure each device separately;
-- slows the provisioning process.
Doesn't have to be that way. Recently heard from FatPipe Networks
(www.fatpipeinc.com) about their
devices that create faster, more reliable
connections by inverse multiplexing and load balancing over a mix of
Division Multiplexed (TDM) or IP connections. This company develops
ships the GUI at the same time as the CLI. Any function at the CLI is
also accessible from the GUI, which means its customers never have to
learn the CLI at all.
Simplifications can be dramatic: one of their slides
shows the 20 lines of
Border Gateway Protocol programming at the CLI compared checking three
boxes on the GUI. A walk-through demonstration of this GUI showed that
other aspects were equally simple, because the screen offered options
where possible (in pull down lists) or at least organized the
configuration process by presenting an entry field labeled with the
required content for each item.
TeleGea and FatPipe follow a path 3Com has traveled for years. A toast
everyone who joins them.
-- Special thanks to www.webtorials.com
for hosting our web site and
--Links for this issue:
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Updated: 11 June 2003