With legacy BSS and OSS in cloud evangelists' crosshairs, Level 3's threefold focus on customers, cloud and openness may be pivotal in finally moving these systems into the 21st century.
Demand for the cloud has moved from ethereal hype to real necessity across all areas; ditto for virtualization. Accordingly, it seems that people can't say enough bad things about legacy BSS and OSS stacks these days. (See BCE: Legacy OSS/BSS Is Good for Building Reefs and OPEN-O: Cracking the OSS Quandary.)
And yet, we still have them.
Telco Transformation had the chance to interview Travis Ewert, senior vice president of global network software development for Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), and get his insights on what the big hold-up is on upgrading those BSS and OSS systems that date back to the Bush Administration (or, even worse, the other Bush Administration.)
Telco Transformation: Are legacy BSS/OSS systems as bad as some pundits say?
Travis Ewert: If we define legacy as ten years or more, the short answer is yes.
The long answer is: There are four key areas where legacy BSS/OSS systems fall short with respect to how they support more cloud-centric services.
First: Legacy BSS/OSS systems exhibit what I would call the "A-to-Z disease." Legacy systems are mostly point-to-point, focused on physical elements such as the port, circuit, etc., and not equipped to handle transient services -- like cloud-centric functions that can be instantiated on-demand and are portable across virtual machines or containerized instances.
Second: They were built around a human-to-customer sales engagement model; human quoting, ordering and design, hands-on-the-network provisioning, and reactive network management – all tethered to a monolithic process and workflow. None of this was intended or allows for human-to-machine models (such as user interfaces and applications), … machine-to-machine communications, or Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for a more customer-defined consumption model.
Third: What I would call "Are you there?"-based performance, based on polling and fault, absolutely won't suffice. It is all about the application, which requires active/passive/application-layer performance that is real-time in nature and looking for degradation or anomaly ahead of customer or application impact.
Finally: Fixed one-, two- or three-year terms won't cut it for on-demand expectations. Pay-per-use and consumption is not only expected for [the] cloud, but for the physical and virtual network as well. BSS/OSS of old struggles here.
TT: What are you seeing in terms of demand for cloud-native BSS and OSS? What do you see in terms of growth from here through 2020 for cloud-based BSS/OSS?
TE: As a continuation of the first question, and BSS/OSS support of cloud-centric services: If you believe that cloud, e-commerce, web services, mobile and other apps, and the like have forever changed the expectation of consumers and enterprise IT, then the evolution of BSS/OSS to support cloud-service capabilities can't happen quickly enough. At Level 3, we are firm believers that a customer-defined networking (the other CDN) experience requires a shop-buy-get-use-pay cycle that is fully self-serve to the customer through advanced UI, applications, [and] APIs for on-demand, scheduled/calendared, and programmed service instantiation. Based on our continued growth and investment in this area over the next few years, and extrapolating this to other providers on similar paths, I suggest the growth will be significant.
TT: What are the obstacles to bringing legacy BSS and OSS systems to the cloud? Is it entirely cultural? What is the FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] that you see?
TE: There are some real challenges for moving BSS/OSS to a cloud-centric infrastructure. To call out just a few:
- Legacy BSS/OSS applications use proprietary interfaces to integrate between systems or networks, which could restrict scalability or broader when deployed over cloud infrastructure.
- Many of these legacy systems have proprietary HA solutions that are currently difficult [to] or can't be moved to cloud infrastructure.
- Platform availability could be an issue where these legacy applications use clustering or related approaches that cannot be built on today's cloud approaches.
- Legacy BSS/OSS architectures reflect product stacks that are often used in silos, which would require transformation in order to be moved to the cloud.
What does all of this mean for operators and their IT departments, and their partners, for that matter? What impact can we expect to see in the next few years on their on-prem and cloud infrastructures, respectively?
TE: Fundamentally, the movement to the cloud enables operators to support larger scale with higher levels of simplicity, speed and flexibility. These advantages will offer operators new opportunities to rethink the product and support models with new cloud-empowered cost structures. This machine-driven à la carte model will place significant pressure on IT development and operations teams to keep up. Level 3 is actively expanding a modern view of BSS and OSS systems that will give us the edge in moving at cloud speeds.
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation