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Finding an NMS Framework Flexible Enough to Standardize On

By Eric Wegner Comments
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Eric WegnerI wonder how many wireless handsets have been sent to the scrap heap in the last twenty years.

And yet it’s ironic: In an age of throwaway devices, the principles of good network management remain a rare industry constant. In fact, the term “FCAPS" (Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance, Security) was originally coined in the early 1980s. And in the 30-odd years since that time, the basic telephony network has gone through a whirlwind of changes – cell phones, VoIP, video, gaming, unified communications, etc. – but the FCAPS theme is still as relevant as ever.

No matter how sophisticated a network device gets, you still need to wrap alarms around it, provision it, track its usage, monitor its performance, and secure it.

However, principles aside, it’s rare to find a commercial management system or a home-grown management system built in the ‘90s that’s still being designed and deployed into 21st century devices. Why? Because so many things change over time. For example, the infrastructure that surrounds the management system – the hardware, operating systems, and databases – constantly evolve. And if the management system is not designed to be flexible, you could easily paint yourself into a corner when the computing environment matures.

In the telecom management world, flexibility is a whole science unto itself, and it encompasses things like “functional requirements," “system sizing," “performance tuning," and the best ways to “fit" an NMS into a carrier’s unique environment.

Here at WebNMS, we load-test our NMS framework on various OS and database combinations. But to be honest, that’s just a starting point because you can’t simulate every telecom domain. In other words, you, as the ultimate NMS builder, need to be able to take a framework (either in-house or commercially produced) and design your own system.

Everybody’s system is different. Wireless backhaul performance metrics are totally different from those of wireless access. In the NMS universe, an IPTV system is Mars, a VoIP platform is Venus and a military command system is Saturn.

Every system has its own set of requirements, and although there is a standard set of functionality (FCAPS), no one uses it the same or uses all of the features. In terms of protocols, SNMP is the most common, TL1 and Corba are still being used and there is a growing popularity with SOAP and Netfonf. WebNMS is protocol neutral. It has a plug-able Protocol API for a custom protocol and transport. Some systems use a combination of protocols to perform various jobs.

In many cases, the base functionality of FCAPS is not enough. People add functionality specific to their domain as the value-add such GPS topology or adding QoS. There are integration extensions, for example, LDAP or Radius, to provide centralized Authentication and Authorization or integration with Northbound Interfaces.

Now some of our customers are very picky. We embrace that. For example, one large carrier insists on using Solaris on an Oracle database for everything it does. Another customer asked us to certify WebNMS to work on a very specific flavor of Linux operating system and MySQL database. While this was an expensive project for them due to the regression testing required, it was still a worthwhile investment because it allowed them to bring their best-of-breed technology forward and offer the optimal solution at the most competitive price point to the carrier.

The best your commercial NMS framework supplier can do is support you across the widest palette of functional features, protocols, hardware, OS, and database options and provide open APIs to extend to where you want to go. Here at WebNMS, we support this diverse range of  requirements, combinations and integration points.

So flexibility is one of the first attributes you should look for in an NMS framework. This blog is the first in a series of four that will discuss key NMS attributes. Our next blog will talk about the requirements for a scalable and high performance NMS.

Eric Wegner is a 20-year veteran of the industry and has 10 years of experience with ZOHO Corp. (formerly AdventNet) working on large and complex network management infrastructures for network equipment manufacturers, service providers and military contractors. Eric joined the company as the first sales person and is now business development manager leading the WebNMS division in North America.

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