Orchestration, Zero-Touch Automation, and the Complex Distributed Systems Problem: Part 1

Guest Post by Tom Nolle

It’s pretty common in software projects to have project goals evolve as the project develops, something called “scope creep”. It’s a good thing to recognize the need for change before a project is completed, but it’s not good to have to introduce major new project goals after the basic project design has started. There’s a very good chance that the architecture of the past won’t realize the goals of the future.

This is what’s happening with telecom transformation projects like Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). NFV introduced the insightful notion of “Orchestration”, but with the limited goal of deploying a virtual equivalent of a device. NFV’s Management and Orchestration (MANO) and VNF Management (VNFM) creates a “virtual box” with the same interfaces, the same functionality, of the real box, and seeks to standardize that substitution. What this creates is little intent-modeled islands of automation that are still buried in the same operations processes operators had in their legacy networks.

Even where multiple virtual functions are deployed as a unit, as would be the case with virtual CPE (vCPE) and service chaining, the unit is still managed as a single device would have been, and automation isn’t extended to the legacy elements that are surely still used to connect those virtual CPE elements to each other through the wide-area network. The service, to the user, is the entire service and everything that creates or supports it. That includes not only those legacy devices, but also the entire set of software tools that support current operations.

This is where our “scope creep” comes in. If the service is what the customer sees, then all of that has to be automated to build the optimum benefit case. MANO was a revolutionary, insightful, notion but it targeted making virtual functions equivalent and operators needed NFV to make things a lot better. Within a year, network operators knew that to make a business case for NFV, they needed to do more than just make a hosted virtual function look like a device. The whole service lifecycle, for virtual and physical functions, legacy and new capabilities, had to be automated. This shift of vision was reflected in their second white paper in the fall of 2013, and it’s why we’ve seen the emphasis shift from “orchestration” to “automation”, meaning “zero-touch” automation of at least the most expensive service and operations processes.

“Zero-touch automation” is a whole different path to opex reduction and service agility. The goal now is to change the very practices that orchestration was designed to maintain, to create a whole new and much more efficient model of service automation, based on substituting automated steps for either discrete and disconnected software processes, or manual intervention. The combined service and operations processes of any operator, even a small one, are a complex web of requests, changes, events, and notifications. You can’t address the new problem with little automated islands, or even by connecting those little islands somehow. You have to see, and handle, the entire problem, as a complex distributed system.

A zero-touch-automated service is one where all the lifecycle elements of all the service processes are automated. Every individual element can still support its own lifecycle processes, but these have to be synchronized across the entire service. MANO describes how to make virtual functions look like devices, but not how to make those virtual devices easier and cheaper to operate as a complex distributed system that cooperates to create a service. That’s a problem that MANO, that simple orchestration, just isn’t able to solve.

EnterpriseWeb® was founded years before NFV came along, and their goal was to solve the problems of massive multi-component distributed applications and virtualized services, which older concepts like the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) had exposed but not addressed. NFV, cloud computing, IoT, 5G, and pretty much everything we’re talking about as future services and applications are examples of these very kinds of complex, agile, distributed cooperative systems. Because EnterpriseWeb was designed to address such systems from the start, it was positioned to offer zero-touch automation to all our critical software-centric future services.

The real goal in zero-touch automation is to make not only processes but systems of processes work by themselves, autonomously, which means making them self-organizing systems. EnterpriseWeb provides traditional NFV orchestration, but using an architecture that can provide full-scope zero-touch service automation as well. We’ll look at how that’s done in the next part of this blog.

Copyright 2017, CIMI Corp. and EnterpriseWeb LLC

About Tom Nolle

Tom Nolle is a veteran analyst in the networking, cloud, SDN, and NFV space. He is the president of CIMI corporation and its principle analyst. With a background in software development and architecture, a deep understanding of the Information and Communications Technology, and an inimitable writing style Tom has been a clear-headed voice in IT and Telecommunications circles for over 30 years. Tom has been writing regularly for the technology press since 1982, including: ComputerWorld, Information Week, CIO Magazine and Network World. He is a regular contributor to TechTarget publications and has his own popular blog is followed by CxOs, Architects and Engineers around the world. Tom is also a frequently invited speaker at industry tradeshows and at events hosted by leading International standards bodies. He’s currently a member of the ETSI NFV ISG.

About EnterpriseWeb

EnterpriseWeb (www.enterpriseweb.com) is a New York based software company, which offers a suite of Cloud-native products that radically simplify the design, deployment and management of real-time, data-driven, distributed applications.

While Globalization, Cloud-computing and the Internet-of-Things have led to the increasing fragmentation of modern organizations, EnterpriseWeb has made it easy for customers to work across business silos, IT layers and partner ecosystems for highly-integrated operations.

With EnterpriseWeb, organizations can quickly onboard diverse functions, services, systems, databases and devices into a graph-connected model of software objects – an enterprise “web” of information and capabilities.

The Products allow customers to flexibly compose the objects with no-code; application logic is defined by policies and metadata. The approach supports rapid prototyping of intelligent, event-driven services, applications and processes that can be managed from a unified command center.

Customers and partners around the world use EnterpriseWeb to develop differentiated and transformative solutions. EnterpriseWeb supports Cloud, On-premise and Hybrid/Multi-Cloud deployments. In addition, EnterpriseWeb also offers vertical solutions including: “CloudNFV” for the Networking/Telecom domain and “Ideate” for R&D management and compliance.