In this article

It used to be the up to the service providers to push the envelope in making quantum leaps in bandwidth or complex back office systems. Now large enterprises across a variety of industries operate networks as big and complex as the service providers.

In today's data-centric market, big companies are finding their needs growing beyond the standard SP's portfolio. For example, the world's largest fiber optic network belongs to a global financial firm and not a SP. Other services that once made up the pillars of a service provider's offerings – large-scale ethernet networks, for example – are now being driven by the world's biggest companies with a need.

In other words, enterprise IT operators are no longer relying on SPs because they are acting as one within their own organization already. And with SP-scale networks come SP-sized orchestration and fulfillment problems, meaning many enterprises are now turning to service orchestration just as the SPs did years ago.

Listen to World Wide Technology's TEC17 podcast on service orchestration as it relates to the global financial industry.

Everybody's a customer

For years, digital services rolled out of necessity. The better a SP ran its back office, the more profitable and popular that SP would be.

Enterprises weren't concerned with such matters, choosing to operate lean networks using leaner staffs. The tools and methods to take and fulfill orders, roll out new network capacity and manage services were mostly open source and homegrown.

Every person along the supply chain expects to be treated as a customer these days. That manager in accounting who is trying to onboard a new employee? She's a customer with expectations. How will an IT operation meet such demands?

Did somebody say services?

Take it to the next level with a smart strategy

To rise to the occasion, IT organizations need to devise a strategy that embraces automation.

Plenty of helpful tools exist to get you started – Ansible, Puppet and Chef along with Python scripts and Mongo databases can all be useful resources. The end product can be something a network engineer is comfortable with but may not be the right solution for the enterprise long term.

An orchestration strategy needs to include the following three pillars:

  1. Scalability: The solution must scale to service thousands – or hundreds of thousands – of end devices with lifecycle management.
  2. Versatility: The solution should apply to multiple domains and vendors, and be applicable to a variety of use cases.
  3. Architecturally functional: Automation should create a functional layer that serves as a building block within your network strategy, providing APIs and exposed functionality to other systems.

Automation vs. abstraction

It helps if you think of your orchestration strategy like you would Amazon.

When shopping on Amazon, I'm presented with options. From those options, I make a choice and desire an outcome – for Amazon to ship me goodies as fast as possible. Much of the background noise – dealing with the supplier, settling payment, costs of shipping, delivery times, etc. – is abstracted away from me by Amazon. I just choose, click and a smiling box arrives on my doorstep in a few days.

That's how automation should work. It should be invisible to the customer.

Consider the above architecture using an industry-leading orchestration product to abstract complex network service fulfillment.

Whether you're an IT Network Operator or a Service Provider, you're looking for the same outcome – a customer places an order, which gets translated into services within the data center, network and cloud infrastructure.

The key is the Line of Abstraction – a system that can abstract technical fulfillment away from other systems.

Having a system to process the technical complexity and translate it into a single API call separates the ordering process from the technical fulfillment process. Now, all the order must do is tell the Orchestration system the needed information and Orchestration does the rest.

Another benefit to the Line of Abstraction is the ability to make changes above and below the line without disrupting your operation. Today you're using bare metal boxes as your standard network infrastructure. Tomorrow, you'll be moving to virtualized routers, switches, firewalls and load balancers.

The move to NFV (Network Function Virtualization) is profound for the network. But the customer shouldn't even know it exists. The Line of Abstraction provides that value.

Choose wisely

Your decision regarding automation systems will have long-lasting effects.

Remember our checklist for an architectural solution. An automation solution should be: scalable, versatile, be applicable to multiple domains and vendors, and should serve as a building block within your network strategy.

Allow me to add two more items to check for:

Model-driven: Some orchestration systems rely on you creating a "model" of your service, which means you take all the intelligence needed to provision all the equipment in the service chain and encapsulate it in a service model. This is often a new skillset for network engineers, so they may not be comfortable with it right away. But over time, you'll see that model-driven orchestration provides solid architectural choice and immense flexibility, especially as you transition from standard infrastructure to virtualization.

Lifecycle management: The goal is to treat the network as a service. The best orchestration systems use meta data and store device configurations in their own databases. This ensures the orchestrator is a reliable source of truth for the service configuration. It also means the orchestrator can manage the service lifecycle. So when the service is finally removed from the network, all related configuration is removed, thus freeing up resources and freeing up assets.

Solutions that work for the enterprise

As it relates to orchestration solutions, especially as it applies to global financial institutions, there is no turn key product. All banks are unique and require a customized approach.

When working with enterprises, I frequently encounter the need for workflow that takes business and human processes and blends them with technical orchestration. Selecting an orchestration strategy with a view toward how well it will work with a companion BPM (business process management) or workflow engine is a good idea.

Most solutions fall into three buckets and it's important that any strategy you devise dive into each. Those three buckets include:

  • Standard orchestration
  • Business process automation
  • Service assurance

From an end-to-end standpoint, World Wide Technology can utilize multiple solutions to accomplish all three. For example, WWT can utilize a powerful technical orchestrator such as Cisco's Network Service Orchestrator (NSO), put a human-facing dashboard on top of it by integrating Cisco's Business Process Automation (BPA) and then fuse Netrounds' SaaS quality assurance into it to ensure the solution is working at all times.

Assurance will become increasingly important as virtualization hits your operation. Virtual network functions will spawn along with services, but you may not be able to manually track where they appear. Having the orchestration system deploy the probe along with the service will make sure monitoring is accurate and immediate.

The kind of orchestration described above may best fit use cases like:

  • Creating an internal portal for network or datacenter services
  • Automating MPLS or other WAN connectivity
  • L2 VPN provisioning within the datacenter
  • Attaching a network service to a catalog system or ticketing system
  • Large scale rollouts for data centers or branches
  • Migrating branches/onboarding or off-boarding branches
  • Configuration migrations from vendor A to vendor B
  • Rollout of vBranch (virtual branches on white label hardware)
  • Introduction of NFV (Network Function Virtualization)

Beyond the solution

Because orchestration solutions require such a nuanced approach, they are not simply a sell and walk away experience.

Enterprises will always have needs and requirements unique to their business and corporate structures. SP-like service orchestration may be right for some applications or departments, but not for all. Regardless, it's important to remember that any orchestration tool – be it an SP class orchestrator or an open source tool – must work within your organization's business process.

WWT takes a more collaborative viewpoint, offering customers workshops, sandboxes and other discovery opportunities to play around with and develop new models. Through its Adoption Services, WWT can build custom workshops or sandboxes in its state-of-the-art Advanced Technology Center for customers to gain hands-on experience with the latest in automation orchestration technology.

By understanding our customers' challenges, WWT can ask the right questions and provide architectural guidance to help develop a long-term strategy.