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Next Generation (Human) of Telecoms

The key question is - how large will the shortfall in skilled employees be in the telecoms sector across the globe in 2020 and beyond?

We're going to need people across the organization that understand how to

  1. Create and maintain programmable wide area networks (SDN)
  2. Deploy, orchestrate and maintain virtualized network functions side by side with existing physical network functions in the WAN (NFV)
  3. Orchestrate those programmable and virtualized networks to create end to end application aware/driven connectivity services across multiple domains and technologies (LSO)

Without those people, telecoms are just not going to be able to reorganize and deploy the types of automated, self-healing, secure and assured connectivity services upon which we are increasingly dependent.

One organization that is putting a dent in that shortfall is CSIR in South Africa. Over the last two weeks, CSIR hosted in their facilities near Pretoria 10 students and graduates, teaching them about SDN, NFV and LSO as part of a joint MEF-CSIR Hackathon event. Issa, Jeneva, Lanka, Lindokuhle, Mandisa, Mxolisi, Sekgoari, Sifiso, Themba and Yurisha from the Universities of LimpopoZululand and Kwa Zulu Natal not only followed a comprehensive curriculum put together by CSIR's Mduduzi Mudumbe and Sabelo Dlamini, but also did a practical project that will be contributed to the MEF and OpenDaylight. That project touches on LSO Presto, OpenDaylight Unmgr project and VPP.

The Mareka Institute at CSIR is mandated by the South African government to assist South African telecoms transform their existing infrastructure and operations/business systems to take advantage of new technologies and standards like LSO, NFV and SDN. In that way, the telecoms will be able to evolve and meet the needs of the rapidly emerging applications of the next decade.

MEF collaborated with CSIR on this event because this effort is part of MEF's vision of helping its 130+ service provider community to navigate the adoption of digital transformation and the MEF 3.0 framework.

Events like these also tie in closely with MEF's MEF Developer Community work as well as its latest professional certification, MEF Network Foundations (MEF-NF). 

By the way, students and graduates always look this happy after two weeks of intensively learning LSO, SDN and NFV...

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From Months to Minutes

We hear that a lot now in our space. Automation not only reduces opex, but it also speeds up the delivery of new services. Get rid of manual requests between people and departments and companies, and replace them with machine to machine interfaces. Months to minutes to deliver a multi-operator connectivity service. It sounds so easy but it's hard, very hard. On at least three fronts.

The first front is organizational. Organizations are built not only of people, but structure and processes that run through the structure between people. Changing the flow of those processes for the purposes of automation by having them bypass those existing structures and people is not an easy task for management. Especially when they don't want to damage revenues from existing products and services, and when they have to do their best to keep and re-skill their employees rather than a series of mutually traumatic firing and hiring events.

The second front is commercial. Collaborating with competitors doesn't come easily to anyone. To get services automated means agreeing with your competition on what information you are going to share at the speed of software calls. That means possible, if accidental, exposure of potentially sensitive commercial information. Management is going to think very carefully before risking having their IT departments 'run riot' with new software directly connected to their competition.

The third front is technological. It takes time to work out what is the minimum effort required to implement meaningful automation, especially when it requires involvement of technology and commercial partners. For example, implementing an API that is acceptable to both a  service provider buyer of wholesale services, and its partner selling those wholesale services is often far from a trivial task.

Developing standards is essential for implementing software-driven automation between different organizations and even between parts of an organization. But we can see that it only helps with that  third technology front - and even there, standards are just part of the story.

Service providers are implementing digital transformation in order to stay ahead of their competition and to keep up with their customers and new customer applications. We can call it 'MEF 3.0' for short. MEF needs to help on all three fronts - organizational, commercial and technological - of this digital transformation of service providers.

The MEF 3.0 Service Fulfilment & Activation (F&A) implementation project is the first example of a new approach being driven by pioneering MEF members.

Dr. Ahmad Khalil at Tata Communications, Daniele Mancuso & Gabriele Laghi at TI Sparkle, and Sarit Tager at ECI Telecom are driving this project. They have interconnected  three production networks  to form a live connectivity service from Hong Kong to New Jersey via Frankfurt which is orchestrated according to MEF LSO principles. Well, they didn't do it all by themselves of course. They got help from colleagues in their respective companies. And this is the key.

Daniele from TI Sparkle highlighted this explicitly in his MEF17 workshop panel. This MEF 3.0 F&A project is a valuable vehicle for TI Sparkle, for example, to engage different parts of the organization in its drive to implement LSO-SDN-NFV based services. Rather than rely on a the product team to internally educate, through whiteboarding alone, the different departments on what they need to expect as new MEF 3.0 services get rolled out, they can actually get them involved in a practical fashion in a safe prototyping environment of a MEF 3.0 service, while engaging with friendly partner service providers on the interoperation and automation aspects. Many in the MEF will know Alessandro Talotta, CEO of TI Sparkle and MEF Board Member. His commitment to this transformation in TI Sparkle is exemplified by his encouragement of the very central participation in this project.

Ahmad at Tata Communications has had a similar experience. He, together with his Tata colleague Jeff Schwartz - also a longtime Carrier Ethernet services champion in MEF - was able to introduce us to Peter Juffernholz, AVP Virtualized Network Services at their company during his visit to MEF17 which allowed us to brief Peter more effectively about all the relevant MEF work going on in his space. This is just one example of Ahmad and Jeff using the MEF 3.0 F&A project to evangelize MEF 3.0 topics within their company, and get different departments to internalize the potential significance of MEF projects for Tata. It was also noted during the MEF17 workshop panel that getting the original interconnection of ENNIs was relatively very easy due to the MEF's standardization work (e.g. MEF 26.x) whereas the bureaucratic process part of coordination with the wholesale partner Operator required a lot of internal effort. This was a valuable lesson for everyone in the project.

Sarit at ECI Telecom sees a very different aspect of the project. Internal coordination in her company is not factor. Being software driven, the company is already largely in devops mode. (Service providers are not there yet but they will need to be eventually in order to truly take advantage of MEF 3.0) However, being able to sandbox solutions in a non-commercial context for the service provider participants in the project means that her company can communicate and understand the service providers' (both existing customers and potential customers) position in the transformation process to MEF 3.0. This plays out in questions of LSO implementation, use of LSO APIs (e.g. LSO Presto NRP and the LSO Sonata Ordering) and many other facets of introducing LSO orchestration. 

So Ahmad, Daniele, Gabriele, and Sarit are sandboxing "months to minutes" in a MEF-facilitated project that spans the globe from Hong Kong to New Jersey, and in the cases of the service provider participants, bringing that measurable and meaningful KPI closer to reality in their respective companies.

The time is right now for other service providers to enter this project. Today, the project simulates a use case of automation using only one transit provider for the requests over LSO Sonata - in this case TI Sparkle. By having more service providers participate and simulate the transit provider options, we can harden LSO Sonata serviceability requirements, for the benefit of the whole industry. It's also a great internal learning exercise....

Let us know if you are interested in checking this out further. You only need to be a service provider member of MEF. If you aren't already a MEF member, then this is a good reason to join (and it's very easy)! If you're not a service provider, we might find it challenging to turn you into one but we can at least look for ways to have you participate (again, only if you are a MEF member...)

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We the People

The announcement of MEF 3.0 last week at the MEF17 event in Orlando was a great opportunity to look back, see what the MEF has achieved and to consider what we need to do to get MEF 3.0 adopted widely in the market.

It seems like aeons ago that Bob Metcalfe announced the launch of CE 2.0 on February 23 2012.

We’ve done a lot in the MEF in the 5 years since that industry milestone. For example, we bootstrapped the Service Operations Committee which went on to drive work on the standardization of operational aspects of Carrier Ethernet, like processes (MEF 50) and Ordering (MEF 57). These and related specs have in turn enabled the MEF to address operational aspects of delivering Carrier Ethernet services with its ground-breaking definitions work on Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO).

In turn, LSO leverages emerging SDN and NFV standardization to underpin MEF’s statement of its seminal Third Network Vision in 2014. This week is when that vision started being officially realized as MEF 3.0.Often, we start work in the MEF knowing that it is foundational but without knowing what is going to be built upon those foundations. It takes a leap of faith to start such things as committees and projects. Not only a leap of faith. It needs new people to join in to make that work a success. But if it's new work, then it's probably new expertise that's needed. How do we get that expertise into the MEF if the projects aren't yet started and there is no critical mass yet to 'attract' new participants?

Here's the rub. When I say “the MEF” and “we” over and over again, I mean the MEF members. More than that, I mean individuals representing their companies. It’s these individuals that spend time, often outside their day job, not only getting on calls but writing, editing and reviewing. Just as importantly, they are reporting to their management on what is going on in the MEF, why it is important for company to allocate resources, coaxing travel budgets and pushing for sponsorships at MEF events. That’s in addition to trying to find the right people in their organization to join new MEF projects that are not within their own scope of expertise or responsibility. The list of people that have done these things over the last 5 years since CE 2.0 was launched, and even more, since the founding of MEF in 2001 would be very long and hard to put together and so I'm not even going to try. I might leave out key names by accident and it would be tremendously unfair to leave anyone out of that historical narrative. However, that doesn't in any way detract from the industry-changing nature of their work.

The Service Operations Committee is a case in point of this bootstrapping challenge (by the way, it's the LSO Committee now) We needed people with expertise in serviceability, ordering, process, and other related operational areas. But the MEF back then - I don't mean decades ago, I mean 3 years ago... - was overwhelmingly driven by network architects, network engineers and networking standards people. We had only a few of the right people for this new area of operations-oriented standards work. The problem was compounded by the fact that often, the departments with the networking people don't know the people in the departments that do the operations stuff. And even when they do, they might well find it difficult explain what is required from them to make these new activities a success. This is almost always the case with our very large members - and we have some VERY large members in the MEF. Even smaller member companies don't always have the ability to capture the essence of this new skillset problem for their executive management that are able to reach across departmental boundaries to get things done.

So, I've decided that the launch of MEF 3.0 is a great opportunity to start blogging about this. Obviously, we in the MEF have succeeded in bootstrapping many times very new and radically different activities from our core Carrier Ethernet services work. We work on it with our members day in day out. But the challenge is getting ever greater as we touch more and more fields that we need to address in order to make MEF 3.0 meaningful. Modeling, policy, intent (business requirements), security, APIs, business applications, big data analytics, micro-services, software tooling and so on and so forth. So in each blog, I'm going to call out ongoing work for which we need new skills from our members (and future members) More than that, I'm going to call out those pioneers that are already pushing that work forward. The ones that have taken the leap of faith that this new work is important and foundational, and whose management have given them their backing.Watch this space. And remember. It's the people that make things happen in the MEF.

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