Jan 18
Hybrid Inventory


Telecommunications networks are becoming virtualized as physical appliances are being replaced with cloud based software functions. But despite its obvious attractions such as dramatically reducing costs and increasing network functionality, network virtualization also brings with it more complexity for services providers. Both physical and virtual networks will need to co-exist for the foreseeable future, at least until the transition phase has been completed. Managing a virtual/physical hybrid network presents its own challenges as conventional inventory systems fall well short of the mark. This is where the hybrid network inventory comes into play. Able to work seamlessly across both physical and virtual environments, hybrid inventory systems provide a real-time overview of the physical, logical and virtual network and its services, which makes managing a hybrid network much easier.

How it used to be.

In conventional networks, separate physical elements such as a set-top-boxes, access servers and wireless base station equipment were designed for each of these functions. Physical hardware was often duplicated unnecessarily, requiring physical space, power and a secure premises in which to house them. This equipment was managed using various network management systems (NMS) and separate inventory systems, often dedicated to a particular vendor’s equipment and adding to the overhead of multiple management systems. The inventory is effectively a database which stores the physical, logical and service configuration of the network. It is used by the service provider’s operations team to plan, manage and keep track of changes in the network as well as supporting service fulfillment and assurance operations.

Enter the virtual network

Virtual network technology such as Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) have been evolving rapidly over the last few years, completely changing how networks are constructed and managed. Virtual network functions (VNFs) are the software equivalent of their hardware cousins and can replicate a wide range of functions such as firewalls, voicemail servers and security applications. Even radio access networks can be virtualized (vRAN). VNFs can be  supported in the cloud and hosted in data centers, making them highly available and independent of dedicated hardware. VNFs can be ‘spun-up’ on demand and only exist while they are needed (which could be just for a few minutes in some cases). After they’ve done their job the software instance can be deleted, freeing up computing and storage resources for other network functions.

Hybrid networks need a more dynamic inventory

As networks become increasingly virtualized, service providers are faced with managing a much more complex ‘hybrid’ network involving both physical and virtual technologies. Traditional inventory systems were not designed to manage these virtual networks and can’t readily be extended to incorporate the virtual world. One key aspect to this is the real-time and impermanent nature of VNFs. Networks are becoming much more dynamic with the ability to self-organize and self-heal. Networks can re-route traffic automatically and spin-up new VNFs in response to network congestion and other unforeseen events.

However, network operations staff still need to know what’s going on across the whole network in order to design, plan and predict network configuration changes and service performance. The behaviour of the network at every level from the physical transmission layer to the virtual service layer needs to be traceable, especially when diagnosing network and service faults. The inventory system needs to provide fast real-time updates in response to huge amounts of autonomous network changes. Mapping the current state of the virtual and logical network layers and their interrelationships with the physical network underlay is crucial for hybrid network configuration and operation.

The hybrid network inventory

The hybrid network inventory combines a conventional physical network management database with a real-time ‘active’ inventory component which interacts with VNF controllers (the management entity that takes care of the VNF’s lifecycle), automatically tracking the status of the network and service functions. The result is an inventory system that provides operations staff with a holistic view of the entire end to end network across all functional layers. This makes carrying out network design, service fulfillment and service assurance much easier across the whole hybrid network.

RCR Wireless News – The Hybrid-ready inventory system: why 5g depends on it

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