Operations support systems (OSS) play a critical role in shaping the service portfolios of communication service providers (CSPs). They affect a CSP’s agility in rolling out new services as well as its ability to measure the quality of service. However, the exponential growth in data consumption in recent years has led to investments in network upgrades being prioritised over transformations in OSS or business support systems (BSS). Legacy OSS systems pose many challenges for CSPs, including that of management complexity as numerous OSS products with varying infrastructure requirements have to be maintained. There are also issues related to the delayed time-to-market; lack of business flexibility; and high costs.
In addition, large carriers and wireless operators have a vast array of products in their OSS landscapes that consist primarily of silos of OSS stacks for managing different network technology domains. This approach is inefficient and costly from an opex perspective. Even though CSP revenues are growing, the growth in margins is not keeping pace.
Network and OSS managed services providers (MSPs) have gained significant popularity in recent years as CSPs outsource their network operations for cost savings. However, MSPs are also facing similar OSS challenges and are under cost pressures due to the diversity in the networks and OSS of clients. These challenges are equally relevant for Tier II and mid-market operators. OSS on the cloud presents a value proposition that has the potential to address these difficulties.
OSS cloud for Tier I CSPs
Tier I CSPs have multiple OSS applications because of their heterogeneous technology and vendor landscapes. One of the main challenges is the management of software patches and upgrades. The abundance of legacy systems also makes the on-demand scaling up of operations another big issue.
Cloud-based infrastructure offers an efficient and easy way to enable resource-sharing, automation and monitoring. CSPs can host OSS solutions within their private cloud, giving them the flexibility to scale up operations on demand and simplify software upgrade procedures, thus considerably reducing costs. The benefits of this model include:
Reduced costs: It provides elasticity in handling burst traffic scenarios without having to make upfront investments, as well as the ability to automate server configurations and monitor their usage for improved efficiency.
Improved operational agility: It makes it possible to achieve near zero downtimes during upgrades. New versions can be deployed on virtual machines with the same physical hardware. After the software is tested, the network load can easily be re-directed to the new virtual machines. This model also enables a faster time-to market as new capabilities can easily be provisioned and scaled up or down on demand.
Analytics capabilities: Big data solutions and analytics are easily complemented by cloud and the scalability it offers.
OSS cloud for MSPs
Today, CSPs rely on MSPs for improving their operations and reducing costs. One of the main challenges for the latter is that CSPs have an array of OSS products from multiple vendors. These systems use different hardware and middleware and also have different upgrade cycles and change management processes. The overheads of managing OSS applications prevent service providers from achieving economies of scale and significantly limit their value propositions. Moving to a cloud model reduces capex and opex and increases business and operational agility. It also has other benefits.
- Reduced costs: The single deployment of an OSS application can cater to the network management requirements of multiple MSPs. OSS upgrades can be conducted once and be effective for all customers, while the sharing of resources results in economies of scale.
- Operational agility: This model improves speed and execution when taking over the operations of new CSPs or new network domains of existing customers. Customer additions do not result in new overhead costs in OSS applications, and existing solutions can be scaled up seamlessly by adding new hardware to the compute cloud. Some applications can be auto-scaled to handle burst traffic scenarios, reducing spend.
- Simplified vendor management: The OSS application environment can be rationalised by leveraging the same application for multiple customers. This significantly reduces vendor management overheads and employee training requirements, thus increasing efficiency.
OSS as a service
OSS services delivered over the cloud in a SaaS (software as a service) model offer small- to medium-sized CSPs a unique combination of technology and business flexibility at a fraction of the cost of traditional licensed software. This model is more relevant for Tier II or Tier III operators with limited budgets in emerging markets. On-demand cloud services can provide them the same level of business maturity enjoyed by large CSPs while also reducing opex. This has a host of advantages.
- Best of breed solutions: CSPs can choose the right combinations of OSS application features for their networks instead of being forced to licence products. The OSS service provider takes care of upgrading the application, and the CSP can be assured that they will have the latest upgrades.
- Reduced capex and opex: This involves no upfront capex and gives small- and medium-sized businesses the option of scaling up OSS systems as their networks grow. Tier II and Tier III CSPs can get the right mix of technology and flexibility at much lower licence costs. Their opex also reduces as they only need to focus on network operations and not worry about the OSS IT infrastructure.
- Flexibility: OSS service providers will have more flexibility to package and price value-added features of their applications. New ones can be added without any deployment overheads as and when required. If an operator starts offering new services, the associated OSS capabilities can be provisioned on the fly.
There are different options for delivering OSS through the cloud. Identifying systems that can be migrated to the cloud requires an examination of architectural readiness and the maturity and priority of the OSS product in conjunction with the evaluation of the CSP’s OSS landscape. The deployment will also depend on the scale of operations. Different kinds of stakeholders can consider the following approach for migrating to OSS on the cloud:
Tier I CSPs
First, they should prepare an IT roadmap and strategy under which they prioritise OSS cloud enablement; consider the complete OSS/BSS landscape; define the cloud solution and identify required vendors or partners; define clear roles and service-level agreements if multiple parties are involved; and factor in the possibility of outsourcing parts of OSS/BSS to MSPs.
Next, they should undertake their IT OSS planning, including capturing the current state of the opex for the maintenance of IT infrastructure and application support. They also need to identify the OSS applications that would provide the greatest benefits when moved to the cloud; check with vendors on their development roadmap for any legacy applications; and identify the applications to be replaced with newer vendor solutions or upgrades.
Finally, they should design a procurement strategy. For new OSS applications, the vendor’s product roadmap, architecture and support for the cloud should be clearly understood.
Tier II and Tier III CSPs
Under the IT roadmap and strategy, these CSPs should classify existing OSS applications and features into “must-have” and “nice-to-have” and retain the must-have applications or outsource them to MSPs, and scout for SaaS offerings for the nice-to-have applications. They should factor in the use of applications hosted outside the premises; i.e., define clear security mechanisms, touchpoints with in-house applications, and overall governance and policy control.
While planning IT OSS, CSPs should identify those must-have OSS applications that will provide the most benefits when moved to the cloud. They should take vendor inputs on their suitability and identify dependencies for them.
Finally, under the procurement strategy, they should check if there are SaaS offerings and whether they can be applied as required. The customisation capabilities of such products should be understood.
They should prioritise cloud or SaaS enablement as part of their OSS product roadmap. In addition, they should define the cloud solution and identify the vendors or partners required to implement it, and also lay out common guidelines for the cloud enablement of all products to avoid using different third-party solutions in each of them. Under product architecture, they should not add multi-tenancy as an afterthought, and instead design it from the ground up. Moreover, they should choose mature virtualisation solutions, and consider scalable storage solutions like big data when offering products in a SaaS model.
CSPs should carefully consider the benefits of OSS on the cloud as it gives them the scalability and flexibility to keep pace with rapidly evolving market requirements. The benefits for OSS vendors and MSPs are equally important as a SaaS-based model can provide a recurring cash flow and improve operational efficiency. This will decouple OSS software sales with network upgrades or roll-outs and also enable OSS vendors to quickly implement new features in OSS solutions for a larger segment of customers.
Based on Wipro’s white paper, The OSS Cloud Opportunity