Author: René Luers, Sr. Global Account Director at Group 2000
Group 2000 is a company with years of experience in Network Management Solutions. Group 2000 needs to update and maintain their Network Management product suite constantly in order to keep up with the technology innovations and the security related items. Next to the impact on our existing products, these market movements also hold the possibility for new products. In this article Group 2000 will show how an idea is formed into a product. This blog is intended for more technical inclined readers and will not contain commercial information.
The product mentioned in this article is called “Cell Recovery Management Platform” (in short CRMP) and might soon enrich our network management suite portfolio. Network Management within Group 2000 means integration with various vendors (for example Nokia or Huawei) in a customer network. The vendors follow ETSI specifications so therefore Group 2000 needs to have in-depth knowledge (of ETSI specifications) in order to translate the individual use cases to vendor specific commands that need to be send into the customers network.
The initial idea for a new product came from a disaster that occurred a few years back when the mobile networks from multiple operators were disturbed for a long period of time. One of the striking things was that the impacted network area was far greater than the disaster area. This was caused by the handover behavior of cell phones when they lost the connection to the network.
Some time ago Group 2000 was in the phase of creating a product called LIMA Network Protect that required in depth knowledge concerning the process of cell phones setting up (and terminating) a connection to an operator network. This knowledge was gathered by investigating numerous (versions of) ETSI specifications. It was during that investigation that we found a way to potentially solve the problem that was mentioned earlier.
Group 2000 encourages employees to develop their own ideas. The process for these new ideas is that they are logged and pitched (internally) to see if the idea has any potential. The initial steps for our new product CRMP were taken. Next will be the creation of some high level documentation that can be used to determine the market potential for such a product. After these phases it is time to work out the requirements of the product so that each of the relevant use cases is supported and the product is compliant to the Group 2000 standards. During this requirements phase we identified a series of challenges that needed to be addressed.
As earlier mentioned, one of the features for a Network management product is the need to support various vendors. Due to the relatively long lifetime of a network element our product will encounter a broad range of different software versions in customer networks. In order to limit the impact and still be flexible enough to support the different setup between operators, group 2000 has chosen for the separation of concerns (SoC) principle.
By implement according to the SoC principle, the Group 2000 software has a base that supports the use case and standard features and some small sections/modules (called provisioning modules) that encapsulate the vendor specific code. The result is a stable base product that has separate small provisioning modules which are impacted when the product encounters a different software version or even a new vendor. The provisioning modules are also the entry points into the customer’s network and that means high security requirements and support for multiple connection methods like SSL, SFTP, SSH etc. Next to the method that is used to setup a connection, the product also needs to support parallelism in order to speed up a use case by opening multiple connections to the same network element.
Although Group 2000 software is highly configurable this particular product requires another level of configuration. Group 2000 wants this product to constantly fine-tune the settings on the customer’s network. One of the challenges is the varying performance of the network elements. The fastest network element responds in a matter of seconds while the slowest takes about 6 minutes to respond to a command. Normally there is no need to perform a second use case while the first use case isn’t finished but that would mean that the product is ‘inoperable’ for at least 6 minutes. That is not acceptable and to overcome this problem the product is going to use an “event driven process chain” (EPC) that is capable of maintaining events over different use cases. Also the EPC should be capable to react in a preconfigured manner to events that are sent from the network to the product. This feature enables the product to adjust the setup behavior of cell phones in the same area.
These are just a few technical items that need to be addressed in the requirements and of course in the product. Besides technical items there were also a series of commercial challenges, some of those could be addressed in the prototyping phase, others through desk research and interviews with potential customers. One particular challenge which significantly could impact the commercial success of the product was the Net Neutrality legislation as it was implemented in various countries. With the recent harmonization of the net neutrality regulation in Europe, introduction of CRMP now actually facilitates the new net neutrality regulation.
The next phase is the prototyping phase in which a subset of the requirements are build. The subset of the requirements is determined by some standard criteria’s like time and costs but, more importantly, features that are either technically challenging or identified as interesting for the market.
After the prototype and the market exploring, Group 2000 has a solid understanding concerning the costs, risks, effort and market potential of creating such a product. If the product still has enough potential then a new product is born and is added to Group 2000’s product portfolio.