There is now unprecedented demand for network capacity. Accurate inventory management is critical for ensuring efficient investment and resource allocation, both for the current crisis and for the future.
Network capacity management has suddenly become an urgent topic for operators. That’s because there has been unprecedented demand for network connectivity, due to the lockdown conditions under which many countries are operating.
Around the world, office-based workers have been instructed to work from home. Meanwhile, most schools have been shut, so many households are faced with both parents trying to work remotely, while children keep up through online lessons (or just playing games…). All of these factors have combined to result in huge demand for internet access, mobile connectivity. Even classical voice has surged.
Across the world, the industry is adjusting to the new reality, which is expected to continue for some time. Supra-national bodies, such as the EU are monitoring the situation, while national governments are acting to ensure all stakeholders can collaborate to ensure service continuity, extending emergency legislation to cover the communications industry. Years of debate regarding net neutrality and traffic throttling have been brought to an end, as priority has been given to key services.
As a result, some think the industry is well-prepared for this change. Others are less certain. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Networks can cope today, but can they cope tomorrow? All of which highlights the critical role that network capacity management has in ensuring continuity and resilience, across all operator-enabled and OTT services – internet and data access, voice, video and messaging.
Network capacity management has long been a dull, but important aspect of network operations, ensuring that the resources required for a specific service are available, when required. It also enables new capacity to be allocated as demand increases. Typically, this is based on ebbs and flows. Surges are normally just that - short-lived events, which do not necessarily increase the long-term average. While some events may catch network operators by surprise, by and large, they can be accommodated within traditional capacity planning models.
Today, we are in new territory. We cannot predict consumption next month, based on current and historic levels. We can guess, but the next shock may be just around the corner. As such, traditional time-based network capacity management models are probably broken, at least for the time being. Operators need a different approach that offers greater agility.
Where do they start? Well, let’s think about actually delivering the capacity first. You can monitor consumption and create intricate predictions of demand all you like, but unless you can translate this into delivery, it won’t help solve the problem. Delivery depends on understanding. What resources are available in the network and how are they allocated? If you don’t know this with a high degree of accuracy and confidence, you’re just guessing, really. Building out capacity by throwing out untargeted investments is wasteful and will likely fail to deliver anything meaningful. You might plug some gaps, but you may also put capacity in the wrong place.
The key is accurate network inventory management that brings together data on disparate resources, from different repositories, so that a single, unified picture of network resources can be realised. By understanding what is available, where it is and how it relates to existing services, gaps can be accurately identified, bottlenecks targeted, and under-used resources diverted to take up capacity elsewhere.
The problem is that most operators lack such a view. They may be able to deliver new capacity, but they often do so based on an inaccurate understanding of real resource consumption and allocation. As such, new capacity investments may be wastefully applied. They may not be targeted effectively. They may also be unnecessary if existing resources are not properly understood.
Network capacity management is essential. It is now centre-stage and crucial to helping operators manage the next phase of network demand, gracefully – and for meeting the needs of our new distributed work environment. While operators are taking admirable steps to ensure continuity and are showing welcome willingness to invest, they need to do so in a sustainable manner.
Accurate network inventory management is the crucial link in moving from an urgent reaction to an agile process of capacity management, which protects investment, ensures great efficiency – and delivers the service continuity and resilience users will require.