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DBL: Kelly, tell us more about the participants in the MEF 3.0 PoC.
KH: The PoC is led by Cox and Comcast—both leading North American providers of managed connectivity services for enterprises and each with large installed bases of Carrier Ethernet services.
In addition, we have our partners, Nokia and Ciena, participating in the PoC by supplying key technological aspects of the overall solution, including ensuring that their equipment supports the latest MEF standards and providing technical advice in the configuration of the advanced SOAM and vendor-neutral Y.1731 capabilities in this MEF 3.0 PoC.
DBL: The two service providers, Cox and Comcast, are creating a multi-Operator MEF 3.0 Carrier Ethernet service in this PoC?
KH: Yes, Comcast and Cox have interconnected their networks for this MEF 3.0 PoC and provisioned two Access E-Line Carrier Ethernet services. For one scenario, Comcast is the service provider (buyer) offering the end-to-end E-Line service to an enterprise customer and buying an Access E-Line service from its wholesale partner, Cox (seller), to complete the footprint.
The second scenario is the converse, with Cox ‘playing’ the service provider buyer and Comcast playing the wholesale service partner seller. This symmetric setup is very typical in the data connectivity services’ market today.
DBL: How does a service provider like Cox or Comcast provide visibility on performance and faults in the end-to-end service today?
KH: Sometimes, the service provider will ensure, for example through truck roll, that there is an NID (Network Interface Device) at the far end of the wholesale provider’s network on the customer premises. The service provider then creates a Y.1731 session to the NID to provide themselves, at least, with information on the behaviour of the end-to-end or UNI-to-UNI service. There are several major drawbacks to this approach: It’s costly to put an additional device at the customer premises; the enterprise customer typically doesn’t want yet another ‘box’ in their network environment; it only provides the service provider with an end-to-end view, without making it easy to identify a fault that is not on the service provider’s own network.
DBL: How does the demonstration play out?
KH: In the PoC, we show how the process starts with an ASR order from the service provider ‘buyer’ and culminates automatically in the wholesale partner, providing visibility of the circuit performance of the provisioning wholesale Carrier Ethernet service through a customer-facing portal towards the service provider ‘buyer’. We use MEF standardized SOAM signalling across the Ethernet network to enable the buyer to ‘see’ the network, which until now, has been a major blind spot for the buyer—unless the buyer of the wholesale service has jumped through the hoops of deploying expensive network devices on the far end of the wholesale Carrier Ethernet access OVC.
DBL: What’s the significance of your MEF 3.0 PoC for service providers?
KH: If you are buying a wholesale Carrier Ethernet service, you don’t need to put an NID at the far end in order to see your wholesale partner’s network performance. We wanted to show the mutual benefits to both the buying and selling service providers when there is an Off-Net OVC involved in an Ethernet service. As the buying service provider, using SOAM to eliminate the far-end NID greatly improves the operational model. It lowers costs of the equipment required to activate a Carrier Ethernet service. It also eliminates a potential single point of failure outside of the operating footprint. It can be time-consuming and costly to dispatch a remote-hands vendor to a remote location. Ultimately, this improved operating model translates directly to better service to our customers. As the selling access provider, being able to offer SOAM to Carrier partners distinguishes us as a better partner than other potential access partners. It’s a win-win situation.
The breakthrough is that the wholesale seller agrees, as part of the automated order and provisioning part of the lifecycle, to allow Y.1731 traffic from the service provider to traverse and reflect from the wholesale provider’s own end-equipment. In other words, once the initial carrier-to-carrier agreement is in place, this capability can be activated through ordering and provisioning phases—that’s much more operationally efficient than doing so on a case-by-case basis. It allows the service provider to measure and expose end-to-end performance data to its customers without the service provider having to buy, install, and maintain NID equipment and remote hands contractors on the far end of the wholesale operator’s network. The current and plainly problematic approach in many cases is that the service provider doesn’t deploy an NID at every end point of a wholesale partner’s service and so the service provider only has performance tools and information related to the portion of the service on that provider’s network, not inclusive of the wholesale operator segment. Many service providers don’t bother with NID deployments and end-to-end visibility due to the complexity and expense, both initially and during the life of the service. What we demonstrate is using LSO principles and existing end-point functionality to both remove the need for NIDs and provide high-value performance and fault visibility in all segments of the Carrier Ethernet service, displayed in near-real time in portals for both service providers and enterprise customers.
DBL: Your PoC description mentions ordering-process validation. What is the significance of that piece?
KH: The PoC demonstrates what it takes to set up a network interconnection arrangement between two providers in a way that allows ASRs to flow, containing the ASOG-enabled fields needed to activate SOAM capabilities. The Carrier Ethernet business must leverage flow-through ordering capabilities as much as possible in order to meet tight timeframes and avoid transactions that require human intervention and manual manipulation. It was critical for Comcast and Cox to validate which factors needed to be negotiated more globally and which attributes would be passed as part of ASR transactions. While Comcast and Cox operate different internal tools and processes, we were successful instantiating an interconnect with agreed maintenance association format and MEP ID ranges. The ASRs that flow subsequent to the initial interconnect contain the MEG level, MEP ID, and actual text string Maintenance Association (MA) to be used for that circuit.
DBL: Could some of these up-front characteristics be automated in the ASR process too?
KH: Yes, while ASOG-58 allows for a single MEP ID to flow, it would be beneficial to expand the options and allow for multiple MEP IDs to be activated for a given circuit, and to include a field for MA, as opposed to having to specify the MA in the notes section of the ASR. The service provider may wish to initiate separate performance measurements to collect statistics on both the end-to-end service as well as the access OVC itself. Further expansion of ASOG standards could allow for this enhancement. In the current form, Comcast and Cox are ‘adjusting’ for that with our internal tools and the customer portal.
DBL: Tell me more about the customer portal.
KH: We’ve experienced such great advances from the early days of providing Carrier Ethernet services to customers. Customer expectations continue to evolve and increase, as their applications are made increasingly effective by using Carrier Ethernet services. The flip side of increased application performance is increased dependency on mission-critical Carrier Ethernet services. Our portals allow customers to get near real-time reporting on how a circuit is performing. It ensures the circuit continues to operate in spec and automatically provides alerts to the enterprise customer and/or the service provider partner in the case of a failure. The portal tool can be used to view performance on demand or report on past performance as part of a business review. It’s the guarantee behind the Comcast or Cox name when you buy services from us!
DBL: So, you are putting your money where your mouth is.
KH: Yes, we want customers to know we stand behind the performance of our networks. It’s very rewarding to be able to show this to customers so they can have peace of mind that they are getting what they pay for.
DBL: But how does all of this translate to better service? Is it just about reporting performance?
KH: While reporting is very important to us, the ability to have actionable information is even more exciting. As we see any type of degraded state in the end-to-end service, we can use SOAM messaging now to more quickly and accurately pinpoint the source and act accordingly. When putting together OVCs from multiple operators, this ability to know where to focus repair efforts can make a significant positive impact in focusing restoration resources where needed. And when customers are experiencing application issues, we can quickly tell them how our underlying service is running. It empowers our customers with better information that helps them in their triage and service assurance roles as well.
DBL: From Comcast’s and Cox’s point-of-view, what would you like to see happen as the result of this MEF 3.0 PoC?
KH: We have begun discussions with other carriers about enabling SOAM in yet more network-to-network interconnect arrangements. We would like to leverage the capability as our customers grow and evolve beyond our operating footprints more than ever. We see a situation in which Carrier Ethernet service providers with SOAM portals will have a major advantage over those that don’t have this as part of their offering. Multi-operator services are essential to our future success and SOAM lets us see where we would otherwise be blind. We need our wholesale partners to attach the same importance to this as we do.
MEF 3.0 PoC (117) – MEF SOAM for High Value Multi-Operator Carrier Ethernet Services, will be showcasing at MEF19 18-20 November 2019 in Los Angeles.