Automate Your Network to Build Resilience and Optimise Capacity


As Australia’s largest telecommunications company, our nearly 19 million customers rely on us to keep them connected. From people staying in contact with their loved ones to emergency services finding the closest available treatment for their patients, our connectivity helps them stay engaged. Telstra’s sophisticated and complex network needed to become more nimble for us to bring innovative solutions to market faster, with greater reliability and consistency. From a network standpoint, the most logical way to drive that efficiency is through automation.

A lot of our service provider competitors are small and nimble, and started their business with automation in mind. When you’re a big company with a long history, though, processes and systems become complex. Our goal at Telstra for our network is to simplify our systems, re-engineer our processes, and eliminate duplication, making everything more efficient.  

In a competitive market, #automation is the key to survival.

Removing complexity is a difficult task, especially when it has been established over a significant period. Over the course of 20 years, we had incorporated a lot of manual processes and home-grown tools in a continuous drive to create better experiences for our customers. When we performed an analysis, we found that over that time, our technicians had come up with 97 different ways to turn up one device. All with great intention, but it left us looking at a very brownfield environment. One which meant deploying new technology within our legacy systems would be challenging. Manual processes and variation also come with the additional risk of human error. We needed to remove that risk, standardise the way we delivered, and introduce automation.

A Solution to Take on a Nationwide, Multi-Vendor Network

This is where my involvement began. I’ve been with Telstra for over 30 years. For the last few years, my focus has been on network engineering and planning domain management. In early 2021, I became the Group Owner of Connectivity Enablers, responsible for how we expose and manage connectivity in network infrastructure engineering.   

We knew that automation would give us the agility, standardisation, and efficiency we wanted, and that Cisco Network Services Orchestrator (NSO) was the solution to get us there. 

The benefits for NSO were clear from the get-go: we could upgrade our network quickly and efficiently, and set the process for scalability. Even more important, NSO’s multi-vendor capabilities meant that we could simplify the process we used to interact with our multi-vendor network. Cisco, Juniper, F5—you name it, we likely have it. NSO’s power was its ability to drive different technologies, devices, and platforms in the same way. 

Collaborating to Implement One of the Largest Deployments of Cisco NSO

Although deploying Cisco NSO was the right choice for our needs, we needed experts with deep-rooted knowledge of the implementation to work alongside us to strategise and execute. The most obvious choice for this was Cisco CX. Because of the CX team’s proficiency with NSO, we could get started quickly and create a factory-like environment that supported continuous, replicable, and programmatic deployments—faster and at scale.

We had eight or nine feature teams running multiple projects in parallel. With this structure and speed, we were deploying automation use cases to the network as fast as once every two weeks. Because of how quickly and systematically we worked together, the joint team, which included Telstra, Cisco CX, and our partner, became known as the “Software Factory.” Just a year into this project we had full-blown orchestration for all our Ethernet and IP products across the platform. 

Part of this success was making sure we never lost sight of our people and their critical engagement with the feature teams. No matter who you partner with, your people on the ground—your end users—are essential to help identify opportunities, test new features, and adopt new ways of working. Their feedback is important, and they’ll keep you honest and focussed on creating the best outcomes for your business and the customer.  

Setting New Records in Performance

The results speak for themselves. We onboarded the whole enterprise IP network of 43,000 devices in only four days. We were so quick that we earned Cisco’s world speed record for onboarding. Making changes to the network, which might have once taken months, took just days and hours. Using NSO and working with Cisco CX allowed us to not only do this quickly, but also have the confidence we could avoid the typical errors and outages that generally plague this process.

You never know when you’re going to need the ability to make rapid change. When the country’s network traffic went up due to Covid-19, we upgraded our connections to the National Broadband Network (NBN) in just 24 hours to meet capacity demand. Without laying the groundwork for automation with NSO and Cisco CX, this process would have taken upwards of three months. 

Once You Lay the Foundation, the Sky’s the Limit 

The future will be dominated by increased network growth and demands for faster speeds. Working with Cisco CX, we've been able to build a foundation of automation that not only helps us address capacity and speed, but also frees up time so we can package up and bring forward brand new customer services and products.  

With such great success automating our IP network, we’re now working with Cisco CX to take on the optical domain of our network. By automating this high-bandwidth fibre-optic service, we’ll be able to increase the amount of data and the speed at which we transmit it to all our customers. It will be just another step on Telstra’s journey with Cisco CX. This has been a long relationship that's brought us closer together and delivered some amazing outcomes.