Industry Specification Group (ISG) Zero Touch Network and Service Management (ZSM) Activity Report 2023

Chair: Diego Lopez, Telefonica

Examining use cases and requirements for zero-touch network and service management; producing specifications to define a future-proof, end-to-end operable framework, solutions and core technologies for autonomous networks.

The deployment of 5G, the research on generation beyond it, and emerging network consumption paradigms such as network slicing or non-public network integration – have triggered the need for a radical change in the way networks and services are managed and orchestrated. In particular there is a need to accommodate:

  • an increase in the overall complexity resulting from the transformation of networks into programmable, software-driven, service-based and holistically managed architectures, and
  • the unprecedented operational agility required to support new business opportunities enabled by technology breakthroughs, such as network slicing.

These new deployments come with an extreme range of requirements, including massive seemingly infinite capacity, imperceptible latency, ultra-high reliability, personalized services with dramatic improvements in customer-experience, global web-scale reach, support for massive machine-to-machine communication, and the integration of new paradigms, with AI as flagship.

Maximizing the efficiency of end-to-end network operations requires increased automation of functions that are currently administered with direct human intervention, such as configuration and capacity management. In particular, the automation of network and service management has become an urgent necessity to deliver 5G services with speed and agility while ensuring their economic sustainability.

Driven by documented business scenarios, ETSI’s Industry Specification Group on Zero touch network and Service Management (ISG ZSM) is examining requirements, defining specifications and demonstrating technologies for tomorrow’s zero-touch networks. The group’s ultimate target is to enable network autonomous operation steered by high-level policies. These autonomous networks will be able to self-manage and self-organize (configuration, healing, assurance, optimization, etc.) without human intervention beyond the initial transmission of intents.

The group intends to continue its work on enhancing technical features and interoperable solutions to enable the automated execution of end-to-end operational processes and tasks. This will consider additional use cases and technology enablers with a relevant potential impact on the group’s foundational goals, such as functional disaggregation, autonomous management, network capability exposure, digital twins, and generative models, with a special focus on sustainability issues and next-generation emerging technologies.

ISG ZSM works to strengthen the collaboration with key organizations to promote the adoption of and alignment with the ZSM architecture and solutions, ensuring that automated end-to-end network and service management can be achieved. Accordingly the group regularly exchanges information with other ETSI bodies (notably ISG NFV, ISG ENI) as well as external organizations including ITU FG AN, O-RAN, 3GPP, LFN ONAP and CAMARA.

In 2023 ISG ZSM issued two new Group Reports, as well as the revision of a previously published Group Specification.

Intent-based management enables simpler and more user-friendly expressions of input information and higher flexibility in automation. Published in February, GR ZSM 011 V1.1.1 presents a study of intent-driven autonomous networks, investigating the potential use of intents as key enabler for enhancing autonomous network and service management within a ZSM framework. The Group Report provides guidelines on how to use intent-driven management interfaces between the ZSM framework consumers and the ZSM Management Domains (MDs), including the end-to-end service management domain (E2ES MD). Existing domain and technology-specific intent models and intent-based interfaces are analyzed, documenting how these could be leveraged in the ZSM framework and providing guidelines for generic intent-driven management interfaces and capabilities re-usable by MDs. The study also investigates how to handle conflicting intents in the ZSM E2ES MD to mitigate issues and optimize coordination between ZSM MDs.

Published in August, GR ZSM 009-3 V1.1.1 is the third part of a multi-part Group Report on ‘closed loop’ automation. It investigates advanced topics related to closed‑loop operations such as learning and cognitive capabilities, ways to set and evaluate levels of oversight, autonomy, and operational confidence in the behaviour of closed loops. Documenting problem statements and technical challenges, deriving requirements and evaluating potential solution options, the study provides recommendations for further standardization activities.

In April we issued an updated edition of our Group Specification GS ZSM 007 V2.1.1 that provides a glossary of ZSM-related terms and concepts, with the goal of achieving a common language and understanding across all ETSI ISG ZSM deliverables, as well as a reference for use across other standardization organizations, open-source projects and industry.

During the year progress was meanwhile made on various Work Items:

A revised edition of Group Report GR ZSM 011 on intent-driven autonomous networks explores the potential use of intents as key enabler for enhancing autonomous network and service management within the ZSM framework.

GR ZSM 013 is a Group Report on the automation of CI/CD (continuous integration / continuous development) for ZSM services and managed services. It studies use cases, potential requirements and possible solutions of automating CI/CD of software-related primarily to management services and/or functions and secondarily to managed services.

GS ZSM 014 is a Group Specification that specifies security capabilities for the ZSM framework architecture, with a focus on automatic governance of management service/function including AI/ML-enabled service/function, adaptive trust relationship between management domains, dynamic access control and exposure of ZSM service, as well as supporting intelligent security services built on capabilities of ZSM framework. It also documents deployment aspects of the scenarios to validate the applicability of the security requirements and management services/functions.

GR ZSM 015 is a Group Report describing the Network Digital Twin concept, investigating its applicability for automation of zero-touch network and service management and introduce existing, emerging and future scenarios that can benefit from it. Identifying existing specifications and solutions (both ETSI and external ones) that can be leveraged to maximize synergies, the report will outline recommendations of additional capabilities needed in the ZSM framework to support Network Digital Twins. Both ZSM 014 and ZSM 015 had reached final draft status by the end of 2013, with publication proceeding in 2024.

GS ZSM 016 is a Group Specification on capabilities to support the combination of closed-loop automation with intents originating from ZSM consumers (via the northbound interface), focusing on intent-driven governance and coordination of closed loops. The scope of this work includes use cases as well as procedures and information models.

GR ZSM 017 is a Group Report that considers closed-loop automation security aspects. Offering an analysis of security risks related to closed-loop automation, it will propose new security capabilities for the ZSM framework architecture to support the mitigation of relevant security risks, especially those applicable to the coordination across closed loops from different management domains under the ZSM framework.

Building on the existing GR ZSM 015, GS ZSM 018 specifies extensions and new capabilities to support and integrate digital twin technologies with the ZSM framework reference architecture, in order to improve end to end zero-touch network and service management and automation.

To date five ZSM Proofs of Concept (PoCs) have been completed by the group, consolidating its connection with innovation activities, and contributing to positioning the ZSM framework as a foundation for the architectures being considered for next-generation networks, including 6G.

Gaining three new signatories in 2023, ISG ZSM now counts 78 participating organisations of which 49 are ETSI Full or Associate Members.

In September 2023 ETSI the group was granted an extension of its activities for an additional 2-year period.

See the full list of ISG ZSM Work Items in development here.