The Power of Network Automation: Less Hardware, Reduced Time to Market, and Better Product Offerings
Companies merge and acquire because they believe the whole will be greater than the sum of their parts. While that’s often true, the technology of those parts doesn’t always agree. That was our reality at IRIDEOS.
IRIDEOS helps our customers digitally transform. We provide a wide range of different solutions that bring together the best in cloud computing, data centers, optic fibers, and security—all to form one complete package that makes innovation a forgone conclusion.
Based in Italy, we have more than 700 employees. We have about 300,000 km of fiber on the long haul, 15 data centers around Italy, and we run Italy’s largest internet exchange point.
With all of that, you might be surprised to learn we first opened our doors in 2017. IRIDEOS was the product of bringing together four different organizations, all dedicated to serving different areas of the B2B market. The merging of these companies—Infracom, MC-link, KPNQwest, and BiG—was finalized in August of 2018. Almost immediately upon the completion of this process, we realized we were facing a fairly significant challenge.
Merging four different entities of this size and scope from a financial and legal point of view was, believe it or not, relatively straightforward. But as you might imagine, four organizations brought four uniquely different IT infrastructures to the table.
Equally complicating things was the fact that a short time later we purchased two additional companies. One was focused on the data center market business, while the other was an infrastructure company. Overall, we were dealing with different networks, information systems, and geographic coverage areas. These systems weren't going to naturally work together because they were never designed to. Our only hope was to converge our assets into a unified architecture.
The Move to Consolidation
After some contemplation, our team decided to prioritize our needs into three separate projects. The first was the widespread standardization of the services IRIDEOS offered. Since IRIDEOS was the result of merging different service providers, we needed more cohesion—and less customization—in the services we offered.
The second project was process automation and system reductions. We had 170 different information systems—a complete mess to manage. Our goal was to reduce that to 20.
The third project was the integration of the different networks. I decided that the best thing to do would be to put a software-defined network (SDN) orchestrator in the middle of our network. The introduction of SDN technologies in the existing architecture would allow us to intelligently and centrally manage all infrastructure resources through software applications. In this way, the entire architecture could be managed consistently, regardless of the complexity of the underlying infrastructure.
To accomplish this SDN initiative, we turned to Cisco NSO.
Orchestrating a Better Architecture
Cisco NSO includes three main components: the aforementioned Network Services Orchestrator, along with an XTC (XR Traffic Controller), and Itential Pronghorn. The NSO provides service lifecycle management capabilities for both physical and virtual environments and is based on a model-driven approach. This allows us to automatically configure network devices according to any service specifications that are important to us.
The Pronghorn workflow manager not only allows the automation of provisioning, operational, and maintenance activities in the network, but it provides a single pane of glass interface that gives us an incredible level of visibility. Also included is a Network Element Driver (or NED) which allows for the easy abstraction of the network. To put it another way, it lets us act on devices independently of the vendor and any API implementation that may be present.
Although we're still working on all of this, the benefits of our new implementation have already been staggering. Cisco NSO integrates with all of our existing OSS/BSS systems, allowing us to finally operate our infrastructure as a single, end-to-end environment. The NSO dramatically simplifies the management of business processes and operations, also allowing for the automatic provisioning of customized services.
At the same time, Cisco NSO integrates with our underlying infrastructure—enabling not just flexible and dynamic configuration, but also the implementation and robust management of all the different network devices in a multi-vendor environment. Not only has this improved the overall performance of the network through resource optimization functionalities, but it frees my team up to devote more of our attention to innovation.
Cisco NSO also integrates Virtual Network Function management and control capabilities, which is exactly what was needed when attempting to consolidate our architecture. It lets us decouple the network functions from dedicated hardware devices, which ultimately allows us to replace expensive hardware with software-based network appliances that run as virtual machines on off-the-shelf servers.
Not only are things easier to manage, but we're also saving money. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger "win-win" scenario than that.
But maybe the biggest benefit we've seen has to do with the fact that Cisco NSO is based on a true model-driven approach for the lifecycle management of services. This virtually guarantees a massive reduction of the services time to market. Plus, because we can also automate service provisioning, we're in a better position to eliminate costly and time-consuming human errors and repetitive and slow manual activities.
Any one of these advantages would have been a big deal on their own. Taken together, they've allowed IRIDEOS to do more than just create a unified architecture. We've improved the overall performance of the network, freed ourselves from expensive hardware, reduced time to market, and have ultimately improved the quality of what we offer.
This new platform has had a massive impact on our provisioning time. We went from 60 days on average down to between 20–21. But we're also going to push that progress even further. If the customer needs cloud services, we don't have days or hours. We have minutes. Soon, we'll be able to hit that goal.
The Move Away from Manual
Under our old architecture and processes, we handled too much manually. We had to manually activate 90–95% of the services we provided to customers. That wasn’t ideal, but it was the reality of our infrastructure.
But my goal is that we flip those numbers. I want only 5–10% of our offerings to be handled manually. That small percentage that’s still manual will be the result of customized services for customers—and the rest will be automated.
Today, I'm 20% of the way toward this goal. In the coming months, I'll deliver the first services to customers and enter through an automated chain. That’s a big win.
Automation is the way we’ll continue to streamline—and grow IRIDEOS. It’s the way we’ll offer innovative solutions to our customers while scaling our team. Automation is the future, and it’s here today.