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The race to automate the delivery of networking services is clearly on as the service provider industry heads into 2019. A new survey of 130 service providers conducted by the research firm Futorium suggests that the primary driver of those efforts is not so much to reduce costs, as it is increasing top line revenues.

The survey finds 70 percent of service providers plan to implement closed-loop automation within the next 24 months. Forty percent plan to implement closed-loop networks within the next year. The three primary drivers of those investments are faster service delivery and increased revenue (79 percent), improved network security (75 percent), and improved ability to support dynamic/on-demand services (67 percent). Reducing operational costs (42 percent) and capital spending (38 percent) are a distant fourth and fifth.

Today, most service providers are already relying on commercial automation software (58 percent), scripting and programming (53 percent), and in-house developed tools (52 percent) to achieve some level of network automation. The ultimate goal is to implement closed-loop network automation to achieve higher levels of agility. Areas where survey respondents are most keen to implement closed-loop networks include the management of network function virtualization (NFV) platforms (29 percent), edge cloud (25 percent), metro network (22 percent), and core network (19 percent).

Network automation challenges for MSPs

However, the survey also finds hurdles clearly remain, including lack of budget (31 percent), managing networking at scale (29 percent), proprietary application programming interfaces (23 percent), and a lack of industry standards (17 percent).

In fact, arguably one of the biggest challenges service providers face is the rate at which the technology landscape is shifting beneath their feet. For example, while networking vendors have spent years developing virtual network functions (VNFs) to run on NFV platforms, many of those offerings are likely to soon be superseded by smaller, more portable container network functions (CNFs) that can be deployed on open source clusters such as Kubernetes. Most VNFs today are optimized for single class of virtual machines.

Service providers are also trying to choose between management frameworks based on open source software such as OpenStack and more proprietary frameworks from vendors such as VMware. Many service providers have made massive investments in hardening OpenStack. Others find relying on a commercial platform developed by a vendor to be a more expedient approach to managing a virtual network.

Regardless of approach, the Futorium survey finds service providers will be investing in analytics (63 percent), automated network design and provisioning tools (55 percent), and white box switches and open source operating systems (42 percent) to drive down costs that should free up funds to invest in closed-loop network automation.

Of course, service providers are always under pressure to reduce costs because of the fierce competition that drives pricing for network service steadily downward. Customers are also now making it clear they expect a level of network agility. They don’t want to have to wait weeks for service providers to provision additional network services.

Cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) are also elevating network service expectations. In fact, consolidation across the service provider space might accelerate in 2019, as the full import of the economies of scale enabled by closed-loop automation become more widely apparent.

Photo: Martin Charles Hatch / Shutterstock

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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