VL on VoIP        Issue 84               May 2012

Automated Deployment of IP WAN Gets Closer

by William Flanagan, Publisher

After ten years, the problem addressed in VL Issue 1 (when we started with a focus on deployment automation) finally seems close to a practical solution.  To recall:  in the early days, installation of TDM data circuits was very labor intensive--comparable to switching voice calls through manual patch boards. 

The PSTN overcame that problem via direct dialing and automated switches.  Easier provisioning of data services became possible with the wide availability of packet switching, routing, domain name service--the Internet--and Virtual Private Lines (VPL's).  But there remained serious problems associated with multiple carriers and configuration.  For example:
Help is almost here.  Within one carrier's network, LSP's today are configured by indicating the end points and some path attributes.  The Network Management System (NMS) takes care of finding a path and setting up the routing/forwarding tables in the switches and routers.  Automated hand offs between carriers is, as the ITU puts it, "For further study," but it should be here in your lifetime.

        VoIP and Unified Communications              
                          Internet Telephony and the Future Voice Network          
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Provisioning, particularly across multiple carriers, gets done every day.  But then comes the verification of the circuit.  If there's a problem, the location of the root cause may not be obvious. 

Traditional testing methods relied on each carrier or autonomous network entity to test within its boundaries and compare notes with others.  You've heard of "finger pointing"?  The customer could verify connections end-to-end based on CPE, but had no way to locate a problem within a carrier network.

A joint announcement by RAD and EXFO brought back the historical situation and triggered this issue.  Rad makes Network Interface Devices (NID's) that carriers use to terminate local loops at customer sites.  The NID regenerates the signals, provides monitoring, sets up loopbacks, and often contains an Ethernet switch.  The EXFO management system (BrixWorx software) collects information from hardware probes deployed in the core.  Together, the two firms make the twain meet:  end-to-end and per-segment tests.  Or they say they will, relatively soon.

Each NID collects frame and error counts as it measures latency and jitter, per Ethernet Virtual Circuit (EVC).  BrixWorx correlates that information with what the probes in the core provide on their segments.  The result is the ability to confirm operations and locate faults.

Not yet in hand is full integration with those evolving Operations Support Systems (OSS's) that provision the circuit in the first place.  The product road map calls for automatic testing of newly provisioned circuits, VPN's, VPL's, and VPC's.  BrixWorx will issue a "birth certificate" showing the configuration conforms to the customer order (or where it fails to conform).

Once in operation the goal is to monitor both end-to-end performance and per-segment performance.  Ideally, the OSS sets up the service to match the Service Level Agreement (SLA) associated with the order for the circuit.  The NMS monitors each segment of each circuit as well as end-to-end behavior.  Any problem triggers an alarm to the appropriate people before the customer sees any problem. 

Ahhhh, nirvana.

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