The continuous development of telecommunications networks in recent years has made it extremely complex to manage both the elements of these networks and their underlying services.
Network resource inventories offer telecommunications operators, also known as telcos, an opportunity to record and manage their complete set of “assets” (physical and logical) in a single system.
This includes networks such as MPLS/IP, WDM/OTN, Fibre/FTTx/GPON, Ethernet, SDH, SONET, SDN, NFV, Mobile Core, Backhaul and RAN (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G), Microwave, xDSL, WIFI, Broadcasting, Submarine Cable, VSAT, ATM, Voice, DCN, etc.
Single view of the network
Up until a few years ago, the registration of network resources and the services offered over a network was done using a set of different databases in different “formats” (Excel, Access, text files, etc.). Often, there was not even a way to register this information for some network technology.
This creates a very high complexity to maintain and manage the overall network and services offered to customers, mainly due to the different network technologies and providers.
The inventory systems provide a single view of the network that allows telcos great operational agility over the network and the services offered, while it also makes it easier to plan new network investments.
Main benefits of an inventory system
- Complete and accurate overview of all physical and logical components of the telco’s network in a single system, covering all technologies and vendors.
This physical and logical inventory, as well as the inventory of the existing relationships between the physical networks and the different logical “layers”, allows the end2end view of the customer’s network services and the hierarchical “navigation” between the different “layers” from the service to the physical network through the different logical “layers” defined.
This unified view of the telco’s network and the possible “navigation” between all existing elements allows for faster and more efficient network management and maintenance.
The possible “Reporting” module existing in the inventory system or an external reporting system, including simple queries to the system’s database, adds “quality” to this global vision by being able to extract filtered lists by technologies, vendors, etc.
- More efficient customer management
Daily tasks are performed faster and more accurately, resulting in faster service delivery and far fewer service failures. This naturally leads to improved SLAs, contributing to improved customer satisfaction as well as improved operating costs.
The “impact analysis” functionality for network failures and/or changes and the “Single Point Of Failure” (SPOF) functionality for finding possible points of failure in the network contribute to improving the quality of the service provided to the customer.
- Streamlined economic management
Resource inventories enable an optimised management of network capacity. This kind of management saves on CAPEX by avoiding unnecessary expenses on many occasions. Also, the inventory management of these assets provides insight into the value of these assets with the depreciation they suffer and the return on investment.
The management of “spare parts” in the inventory also saves investment by keeping those parts under control and preventing unnecessary investments.
An inventory of leased lines allows for proper management of line capacity, which translates into savings in OPEX.
Therefore, this more efficient operational management of the network and customer services saves on both CAPEX and OPEX.
- Network discovery and reconciliation
The existing interfaces with network managers or directly with network platforms offer automatic discovery of the telco’s network. Thus, all existing physical and logical network information can be automatically uploaded into the inventory.
Furthermore, these interfaces with the NMS/EMS/NE allow for reconciliations of existing inventories and network information, detecting the existing differences. These differences can be subsequently “corrected” either in the inventory or in the network to keep the information fully synchronised and up to date.
- Integration with other BSS/OSS systems
The integration of the inventory with third-party systems facilitates the correct management of network resource information in the telco’s operational processes. The most common integrations are with ERP, CRM, Provision, ITSM and FM.
- Integration with GIS
Integration with a GIS is key in this type of system as it allows geo-referenced visualization of a telco’s network assets and services.
Discovery and reconciliation with the network
Generally speaking, almost all inventories include a feature that allows the initial discovery of the network infrastructure and the subsequent reconciliation between the existing information in the inventory and the network managers.
To perform the discovery of the network information, the inventory has to connect to and extract the information from the network platforms that contain the information.
The NMS, EMS and NE are the platforms that contain the network infrastructure information. In most cases, these platforms have a component called NBI (Northbound Interface) that allows to connect to them and extract the information they contain from the network infrastructure.
The NBIs of the different platforms present different protocols to extract the information. Some examples of these protocols are SNMP, TL1, Telnet/SSH, CORBA, SOAP, REST, flat files (CSV, TXT) or even direct connections to the database.
There is a specific connector for each platform/NBI in the inventory that allows the connection and extraction of the information.
The initial extraction of information allows an initial loading of the network infrastructure into the inventory. Once this initial upload has been performed, the reconciliation of the information is performed on a periodic basis.
Reconciliation is the process of detecting differences between the network information existing in the network platforms and the information existing in the inventory. Such differences are either due to actions that have been performed in the network (e.g. adding/removing a device/card) and not yet performed in the inventory, or actions performed in the inventory (e.g. planning the creation of a new Site with new network infrastructure) and not yet performed in the network.
The reconciliation process shows these existing differences, and the user can take the necessary actions to align the existing network and inventory information.
Integration with other BSS/OSS systems
The network inventory supports interfaces to other systems that enable the exchange of information between systems and assist in the management of a telco’s operational processes.
The most common interfaces of an inventory with other systems are:
- Interface with the ERP
An ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) is the system that integrates and automates the main processes and data of a company. It includes multiple modules, one of them being the module that allows the management of tasks associated with suppliers.
The ERP and the inventory perform the exchange of information related to suppliers. This information includes, for example, information on the suppliers themselves, the purchase/sale of assets, returns, etc.
- Interface with the CRM
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is the system that supports the customer service department of a telco in customer relationship management. As the inventory contains the end2end view of customer services, the CRM and the inventory exchange customer-related information. This information can include, for example, information about the customers themselves, the services contracted by each customer, the main characteristics of the services, etc.
- Interface with the Provisioning System
The provisioning system in a telco manages the set of tasks to be performed for the management (registration, deregistration, modifications) of a customer’s services.
Since the inventory contains the resources on which a customer’s services are supported, the provisioning system and the inventory exchange information regarding the network resources on which these services are built.
This information may include, for example, the reservation of network resources in the inventory for a future service/customer registration. These reserved resources become the subsequent registration of the service in the resources associated with a service/client. Besides, the management of the necessary resources in a modification of a service and the release of resources in the cancellation of a service by the customer must be conducted. All the information associated with these actions is exchanged between the provisioning system and the inventory.
- Interface with the ITSM
The ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) enables the planning and delivery of IT services through processes, people, and technology.
The inventory provides the ITSM with information on the network assets in the inventory through an interface, so it can enrich the information presented in the managed processes. When speaking about Change Management, for example, the ITSM draws on the inventory information and presents it according to the nomenclatures used in the network infrastructure.
- Interface with the FM
The FM (Fault Management) is the system that helps to identify, avoid, and resolve potential problems in a telco’s infrastructure.
The inventory (through an interface) gives the FM the information of the network assets in the inventory to be able to enrich the information presented in the FM. For instance, for alarms raised by the devices, the FM draws on inventory information and presents the information according to the nomenclatures used in the network infrastructure.
- Interface with the GIS
The GIS (Geographical Information System) allows the storage and management (visualisation, analysis, editing) of substantial amounts of data that are linked to a spatial reference.
By exchanging information through the interface between the network resource inventory and a GIS system, a telco’s infrastructure can be completely visualised in a geo-referenced manner. This visualisation is a very important aid to provide an end2end view of customer services and to perform network capacity management.
Best practices and common problems in the integration of an inventory system
When integrating an inventory system in a telco, the most important tasks to be performed beforehand are:
- Analysis of the existing information that must be migrated to the inventory system: It is necessary to thoroughly analyse and understand the content of all the information that has to be migrated to the new inventory system that is being implemented.
- Analysis of the information provided by the NMS/EMS/NE: It is necessary to thoroughly analyse and understand the content of all the information provided by the Network Management Systems (NMS), Element Management Systems (EMS) and/or Element Managers (EM) that will be uploaded into the new inventory system implemented.
- Analysis of the information that the telco wants to manage in the inventory: After analysing the data provided by the different existing databases and network platforms, it is necessary to identify the information that the telco wants to manage in the inventory. This way it is possible to identify the information that needs to be added, and extracted from some additional source, and that is not native inventory data.
The most common issues when integrating an inventory system in a telco are:
- Non-existing NBIs in the NMS/EMS/NE
For the discovery of the network infrastructure and the subsequent reconciliation of the information, it is necessary for the NMS/EMS/NE to have an NBI (Northbound Interface) that allows the extraction of this information.
Sometimes, increasingly less often, this NBI does not exist, either because the manufacturer does not provide it, or because the NBI is not up-to-date, or because the NBI licence is not available, making this automatic discovery and reconciliation process not possible.
- Non-existing or invalid network infrastructure information
One of the major issues, in general terms, is the lack of information or the availability of invalid information. Although it initially appears that all the information to be migrated is correct, in subsequent analyses it is detected that the information is not completely valid, and some information may not even exist. It is necessary to detect this problem initially to take the correct actions and to be able to achieve a correct inventory of the total network infrastructure.
- Differences in service nomenclatures on network platforms and systems
It is common to find differences between the nomenclatures of the services in the systems and in the network. It is necessary to detect these differences early for the correct discovery/reconciliation, so that the information exchanged between the inventory and the different OSS/BSS systems is accurate and the clients can be correctly managed.
- Stitching process
A telco’s network is built on a variety of technologies and providers. This is why customer services may be supported by several technologies/vendors. For example, a service that is supported by two WDM networks from different vendors, or a service supported by an SDH network and an MPLS network.
Each NMS/EMS/NE provides information on the infrastructure that supports that technology/provider. There is no network platform that provides the overall telco infrastructure information.
Therefore, it is necessary for the inventory to perform the Stitching process. This inventory process allows stitching the existing information in the different technologies/suppliers together for the services. In this way, by stitching the information together, it is possible to have an end2end view of these services supported by different technologies/suppliers.
In order to correctly conduct this stitching process, it is necessary to have the necessary information to correctly join the parts contained in each service. The existing problem, on many occasions, is that this information is not correct or it may not be totally complete.
Considerations in selecting a network inventory
The following table shows the set of characteristics that need to be considered when analysing the pros and cons, as well as added values, of an inventory system.
|Hardware architecture||Some inventory systems are supported by a classic hardware architecture, others are deployed on virtual machines, and the most modern ones support cloud-native deployments, Kubernetes, etc.|
|TM Forum architecture||In general, inventory systems are not adapted to the TM Forum architecture. However, some systems are evolving towards the new ODA (Open Digital Architecture) which is being defined by the TM Forum.|
|Data Base||Due to cost, there is a growing tendency to study the database that supports the inventory system (Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, MongoDB, MariaDB, etc.).|
|User interface||The user interface of today’s inventories is mostly web-based, although there are still some with a heavy interface. In addition, it is important to analyse the look&feel and usability of the user interface.|
|Supported technologies and suppliers||The inventory system should be multi-technology and multi-vendor, supporting all types of network technologies and vendors. In addition, it is necessary to assess how the integration of a new technology/vendor is done, as it is possible that only the system supplier can do it or that there is a possibility that the system integrators can do it.|
|Addition of non-standard information||For each type of resource to be inventoried, inventory systems present out-of-the-box information that can be included. Generally, extra information needs to be added. Therefore, it is necessary that the system allows the definition of such extra information to be added per resource type.|
|Bulk uploads of information||There is the possibility to enter data quickly and easily using bulk uploads.|
|User privileges/roles||It is necessary to evaluate the available granularity of the system when defining privileges/roles for the users of the system.|
|APIs with other systems||It is necessary to evaluate the APIs that the system has to communicate with other systems and the possibility of adding new APIs if required.|
|Discovery||Discovery Due to the relevance of the information provided by the network managers, it is necessary that the system presents connectors for the extraction of this information. Furthermore, it has to be analysed whether these connectors are out-of-the-box and whether the development of new connectors is possible, either by the supplier of the inventory system, by the system integrator or by both parties.|
|Reconciliation||The reconciliation process needs to be analysed to see their quality. See if it is a process that can be configured by the integrator and how it provides discrepancy information, as well as the mechanism to align inventory and network information.|
|Reporting Quality||Some inventories include a reporting module included. They may also allow connectivity to the database from other reporting systems or even queries directly to the database.|
|Non-standard functionality||Increasingly, inventory systems include added functionalities that make the system more versatile, reducing costs and integration with other systems. Among these functionalities, you can find the ability to model processes (“workflows”, “BPM”), “Fault Management”, “Performance Management” or systems that have an embedded GIS.|
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