Network automation: learnings from the Covid-19 pandemic

10 February 2021

The use of collaboration tools has increased dramatically. For instance, Microsoft alone saw an increase of 12 million new users on Teams as companies shifted to remote work during the pandemic. This change, together with the increased use of video streaming, gaming, and social media platforms, has driven bandwidth needs up abruptly.

Telia Carrier owns and operates one of the world’s most extensive fiber backbones and recently reported that “every day of the week now looks like a Sunday” in terms of backbone network load, with Sunday evenings being the traditional traffic peak. Verizon has revealed that its overall data volume increased by 19% when compared to pre-COVID-19 levels, with peak web traffic increasing by 30%. Data demand spikes have been documented in India and in Malaysia as well.

Thailand’s largest mobile operator, Advanced Info Service (AIS), is expanding its 5G network to cover hospitals treating COVID-19 patients – this is a good example of how digital transformation has accelerated, with home schooling and remote health care increasing the traffic pattern diversity in networks and generating new service reliability challenges.

While there is mounting pressure in their networks, most operators have continued to deliver the level of service customers have come to expect. But the challenge remains – how do we ensure that we are future-ready in the face of new demands and economic uncertainty? Now more than ever, network operators need to take full advantage of the networks they have and improve their efficiency at all levels – and improving efficiency is, as we will see, what network automation is about. 


The Covid-19 network automation revelation  

In a world affected by COVID-19, network software and automation solutions can be a tremendous competitive weapon.

With travel restrictions and limited access to network sites, software-driven functionality offers the ability to turn on new bandwidth and services remotely and instantaneously – satisfying customer demands more quickly and accelerating revenue.

Increased network resilience with service restoration, faster and more effective network troubleshooting, and predictive maintenance methods that leverage sophisticated network metrics and diagnostic tools help minimize field visits and enable them to be planned well ahead of time.

Optimized resource usage maximizes network investment and is particularly relevant at a time when network transformation activities have slowed down. Network automation software that dynamically optimizes resource allocation enables adaptive yet efficient networks that cope with changing needs and priorities.

During a pandemic, employees and their families should be protected, but business must go on. Network automation offers a means to streamline network operations and define workflows that run autonomously, offering operational flexibility and minimizing the impact of a potential personnel shortage.


The power of automation in the real world 

Although software-defined networking (SDN) adoption has not yet reached the heights predicted a few years ago, its momentum keeps growing, and we can already find many real-world deployments thriving with it. SDN technology, an enabler of network automation, is used by leading telecommunications providers today in production environments.

SDN is used to consolidate operations support system (OSS) integration and implement traffic engineering and automated service provisioning across multi-vendor, multi-layer networks. Multi-layer, multi-vendor-capable SDN solutions, using open interfaces and standard data models, such as those defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and Open Networking Foundation (ONF), can successfully orchestrate multi-domain Layer 0 to 3 services through controllers from various technologies in multi-vendor environments.

The move towards automated service provisioning is seen in operators in countries as varied as Colombia, South Africa, Singapore or Australia, and is as appealing to those deploying new infrastructure, as it is to those optimizing existing one. In addition to speeding up the creation of new services with a variety of requirements and constraints, SDN ensures unified operation across the entire network for efficiency and simplicity, and unveils the potential of disaggregated network solutions.

Other leading operators, with continent-wide networks stretching from buzzy urban areas to the most remote locations, have chosen to add a software-based dynamic service restoration layer to their infrastructure. This has increased the resilience of their networks with no additional hardware deployment or resource reservation. SDN-driven service rerouting upon transmission failure or degradation is an effective way to protect against multiple simultaneous failures and the need to cope with longer repair times. Regions known to experience high rates of fiber cuts can particularly benefit. n

By Teresa Monteiro, director marketing, Infinera