Automating It All (Part 2)

Cisco vision of network automation focused on visibility, intelligent data insights, and action

Editor’s Note: For the first episode of this two-part series, click here to read, “Cisco on Routed Optical Networks: The Effectiveness of It All (Part 1)”.

5G is maturing but revenue from new services remains elusive; operators have something of a difficult road to travel. As they try to figure out the new revenue stream – something that will certainly come from providing business solutions rather than selling more [insert thing they could sell more of] to consumers – a secondary (perhaps primary) goal is to remove structural operational costs and automate everything that can be automated.

For the removal of structure costs, see the link to part 1 of this story in the subtitle. As for automating it all, we cut to an interview conducted on the sidelines of Cisco Live with Kevin Wollenweber, vice president of product management for the Cisco Service Provider Network Systems business. One of the recurring themes in our conversation was how carriers—by and large, bloated, risk-averse organizations that seem unaware that their own corporate inertia is the primary culprit for stagnating ARPU ( my words, not his) – determine how much automation is the correct amount of automation.

“The word automation means something different to everyone,” he said. “When we started down the automation road, it was more about just automating tasks: I used to type these seven commands, now I’m writing a script that automates writing of these seven commands. What we’re really seeing now is the era of increased automation of intent and delivering complete use cases through automation. In terms of automation, I definitely sees a change in [service] providers away from simple task-based automation. They want to simplify how they use multiple tools and multiple technologies and address those end use cases like what we do with Routed Optical or when they deploy Kubernetes infrastructure.

When talking about it with potential or existing clients, Wollenweber said he likes to boil things down to three main principles:

  • Visibility: “How can I understand what is happening in the network? [using] tools that can work with multiple providers and multiple network domains? Show them what’s going on and help them understand it.
  • Smart data insights: “Use streaming telemetry to get insights into what’s happening on the network: Take all the data and get smart insights.” It should be noted that this does not have to be based on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
  • Action: “The next step is to click that button and do it… We trust it now. I see some hesitation in the full closed loop [automation] from some major service providers.

Wollenweber, drawing another recurring theme from the larger Cisco Live program, pointed out that the technology isn’t really the hardest part here. The biggest lift is assembling an organization in a way that lets technology do what it’s supposed to do, which is drive operational savings. This is especially important if you consider the vision of 5G network slicing in which its most functional form, a customer could enter network performance requirements into a portal and the operator’s network would provision and provision these features automatically and from end to end.

The friction relates to the very complexity of the networks that the operators have built. There’s also some disconnect around the idea that to get to an end state (if there ever is an end state) of automated, intelligent, almost elegant networks, things will probably have to get more complex before they get less complex.

“I would say a lot of the underlying components and building blocks, we deliver today,” he said. “I think we see there’s going to be a lot of revenue from enterprise and private networks. The analogy that I really like to use with what we’re doing with Routed Optical and a lot of these tools, think of Tesla and the self-driving cars and what’s happening in this space. It’s not about transforming a car; it’s about transforming the transportation industry. That’s what we’re trying to do with networks. I live in [network] transportation. For me, you can’t build a house without a foundation. You can’t build a next-generation communications infrastructure without transport. What we’re really trying to do is transform the service provider infrastructure, increase those costs and efficiencies going forward. »