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Carrier Ethernet Assurance: A Service-Specific Approach for Improving Customer Experience and SLA Compliance

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Anand GonuguntlaBy Anand Gonuguntla

U.S. enterprises and small- and medium-sized businesses are expected to spend more than $47 billion over the next five years on Ethernet services provided by carriers, according to data from Insight Research. With metro-area and wide-area Ethernet services readily available from virtually all major data service providers, industry revenue is expected to grow from nearly $5 billion in 2012 to just over $11 billion by 2017.

Major operators are turning to Ethernet to cut service-delivery costs — it offers an efficient and shared infrastructure model over more scalable, all-IP technology. In an Ethernet model, many customers are provisioned on the same pipe. For instance, if the connection at full capacity supports 20 megabytes, each customer may be guaranteed 10 megabytes each through multiplexing. The expectation is that those 10 companies are unlikely to be using their full 10-megabyte capacity at the same time, meaning that the average total usage aggregated across customers should come in under the total capacity threshold for the shared link. That offers massive cost-savings compared to the $500 dedicated T1 lines once used to deliver service to businesses.

However, operators need to ensure customer satisfaction by making sure that the shared infrastructure approach doesn’t result in congestion that could negatively impact the customer experience.

When an operator oversubscribes a link and over-allocates bandwidth, it follows that they find themselves with a critical need to monitor and shape the traffic appropriately to avoid customer dissatisfaction and churn. That’s especially true in an increasingly competitive environment.  But operators can leverage guaranteed Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for Ethernet services in order to differentiate services.

A robust, service-specific service assurance approach goes beyond simple passive listening, to offer end-to-end visibility into the network and service environment for Ethernet in real time, including proactively watching metrics on jitter, round-trip delay, latency, throughput and so on to identify and correct for problems before they impact SLAs or the customer experience in general.

The proactive element required to adequately handle Ethernet is a function of the ability to see the current status of the network at-a-glance, combined with the ability to set escalating thresholds as network congestion or utilization grows and changes. One key to this is progressive alarming that can be set to alert when customer traffic hits a series of certain thresholds — 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent and so on.

Also, an effective Ethernet service assurance solution will allow carriers to model end-to-end services in a hierarchical fashion, so they’re not just seeing alarms and performance data at one layer. Ethernet can ride over different transport technologies in a network as it carries traffic from customer premise to the core. Those technologies could be native over fiberSONET, DWDM, microwave or other technology — or a mix of all of the above. It’s a unique aspect of Ethernet, and it requires a more granular view of the network.

In all, taking a service-specific approach to Ethernet assurance enables a carrier to be prepared for the complex and unique set of requirements present in that environment. With proper visibility, alarming, reporting and processes in place, a service provider can more efficiently offer differentiating SLAs that will drive increased market share while preserving revenue streams and profit margins.

Anand Gonuguntla is CEO for Centina Systems.

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