Communications networks underpin our modern societies. These networks in turn are supported by software known as Operational Support Systems (OSS) and Business Support Systems (BSS). OSS and BSS consist of many, often hundreds, of separate pieces of software. However, network inventory solutions are at the heart of every OSS and BSS.
Inventory tools support each of the four primary network operation work streams. For as long as OSS/BSS have been around, Inventory solutions have supported these other four workstreams and their associated industry-standard workflows (shown below).
CROSS Network Inventory supports these workflows:
These four main pillars are likely to remain fundamental to successful network operations well into the future.
However, a significant change is underway in how inventory solutions are designed and how they continue to support modern network models. The pillars won’t change, but the speed of interaction will. This is why a modern inventory solution like CROSS becomes essential.
For example, software-defined / virtualized networks are becoming more common in the Operational Network cloud shown in the diagram above. They are fundamentally reshaping the way networks are operated and maintained. Virtualized network concepts such as VNFs (Virtual Network Functions), CNFs (Cloud / Containerised Network Functions), and connectivity models like SD-WAN (Software-defined Wide Area Networks) provide network operators with far greater flexibility and scalability.
This plays out in the following important ways:
However, these benefits can only be realized if OSS and BSS can efficiently implement them.
Since the networks are changing far more dynamically (and automatically) than ever before, inventory solutions need to keep track of the current state at a much faster rate too. Continuing to perform a daily / weekly network discovery cycle like in the past is simply not often enough. Modern network inventories need a much more up-to-date and accurate account of the network’s service and resource inventory. Their situational awareness must be faster to supply information to each of the four work streams described earlier.
The Inventory solution must be adept at integrating, assimilating, and error-checking data from multiple sources in near-real-time. Modern network automation techniques are only as useful as the accuracy of the data they rely on. CROSS Network Inventory has been designed to quickly reconcile and stitch incoming data sources, but more uniquely, to provide a layer of data governance that cross-checks for errors as it arrives.
With networks being defined in software, it’s not just the size of the network that changes rapidly, but the number of device types and topologies. It’s much easier for a programmer to generate a new type of VNF / CNF than it was for a team of hardware and software engineers to bring a new PNF to market. It also makes it easier for operators to add new vendors, makes, and models into their network than before. This means Inventory solutions must support any possible type or topology, those known today or those being dreamt up for tomorrow.
Moreover, the rigid, hierarchical network models and user interfaces of the past become obsolete or require costly, time-consuming change requests from their vendors. CROSS Network Inventory’s data model and user interface has been designed to accommodate any type of device, connection or service to support networks of today and tomorrow without customization.
Virtualization is used to decouple network and service overlays from the physical infrastructure they reside upon. However, this abstraction introduces additional layers of management as well as associated complexity. The Inventory solution often bears the brunt of this complexity because it is responsible for combining all the different data sources into a coherent set of information.
The CROSS Inventory database consists of two main modelling / stitching rules and five core tables to simplify and standardize the data model. Stitching of data, whilst also providing governance/error-checking, is a core strength of the CROSS Inventory solution.
CROSS also leverages the TM Forum Open APIs for data sharing but is able to integrate with proprietary interfaces as well. This data architecture provides flexibility, easier data integration / modelling and future-proofing.
The simplified table structure also makes it easier for new users to understand, then extract data and insights using standard business intelligence (BI) tools.
Our networks of the future are becoming more flexible, more scalable, and more sophisticated. They are being designed to deliver far greater operational efficiency to network operators. However, they only deliver these benefits when supported by powerful OSS/BSS solutions.
Solutions like CROSS Network Inventory are essential for unlocking value following an operator’s investment in modernizing their networks.
Like traditional inventory solutions, CROSS helps to streamline core workflows such as fulfillment, assurance, planning, and revenue / billing. However, CROSS continues to overcome the challenges posed by the demands of modern, dynamic networks across these same workstreams. It helps to accelerate the speed of delivery and deployment across any technology, vendor or organization structure. CROSS is the platform for future innovation, efficiency, and growth.