2022: major strides marked on the network automation transformation journey

2022:  major strides marked on the network automation transformation journey

Nurit Sprecher, ISG ZSM Vice Chair

Another exciting year in the AI/ML-powered network automation transformation journey is beginning during which the ETSI ZSM (Zero-touch network and Service Management) group will build on the significant achievements of 2022 – in the context of published specifications/reports, cooperation with SDOs, POCs (Proof of Concept) and the strong momentum created in the industry.

The ETSI ZSM group was formed in December 2017 with the goal to define a future-proof, end-to-end operable framework and solutions and key automation technologies to enable the agile, efficient and qualitative management of emerging and future networks and services. The ultimate target is to achieve the highest degree of automation, ideally 100%, while enabling fully autonomous operation driven by high-level business goals and policies.  The autonomous networks will be able to self-manage and self-organize (configuration, healing, assurance, optimization, etc.) without human intervention beyond the initial transition of the business intents.  For a summary of the trends and the drivers of the zero-touch network and service automation transformation, and for information on the  ZSM framework, solutions and technologies, see my article on ETSI ZSM: AI for 5G and 6G Network Automation in the Pipeline AI & Analytics Issue.

In 2022, the ZSM group completed work on the following four major ZSM specifications and reports.

  1. ETSI GS ZSM 008 defines how to manage the lifecycle of cross-domain, end-to-end (E2E) services. The specification describes the management processes during the lifecycle of E2E services (service onboarding, fulfillment and assurance), modeled using ZSM management services. It also describes the interactions between the E2E service management domain and the various management domains (RAN, fixed access, core, transport, cloud). Work done in organizations such as 3GPP SA5, O-RAN ALLIANCE, IETF, BBF, ONAP, Nephio, TMF, etc. assists with enabling the orchestration and automation of end-to-end services. The ZSM specifications provide guidance on the implementation of management services for achieving automated, end-to-end network and service management solutions and architecture.
  2. ETSI GS ZSM 009-2 is the second part of the multi-part Group Specification on ‘closed-loop’ automation, focusing on solutions for the automation of specific end-to-end service and network management scenarios. It is built upon the enablers and architectural elements for closed loops specified in the previously-published ETSI GS ZSM 009-1 and ETSI GS ZSM 002, respectively. A closed loop enables the continuous optimization and adaption of network and resource utilization and automated service assurance and fulfilment – without external intervention. Advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence can empower the closed-loop operation.
  3. ETSI GS ZSM 012 specifies additional management capabilities to enable full AI operations within the ZSM framework, while ensuring support for deployment diversity. These enablers include capabilities to:
  • access the right data, at the right place and at the right time, while ensuring data integrity and trustworthiness
  • support coordination between multiple, distributed AI applications, ensuring a consistent and holistic operational view and the means to act on it. AI applications can collaborate in learning different tasks or contribute collectively to solve a common problem.
  • trigger an action based on the AI output to support closed-loop automation. Understanding the output is important for correctly applying the decisions/recommendations.
  • govern and supervise the AI-empowered operations. AI results must be reliable, measurable, interpretable and accountable. The AI applications should adhere to applicable laws, regulations, ethical principles and values, and be robust against adversarial threats and missing or erroneous data.
  • express requirements and constraints for the deployment of the AI applications
  1. ETSI GR ZSM 011 investigates generic aspects related to intent-driven autonomous networks. Intents declaratively express all the operational expectations an autonomous management domain needs to fulfill and assure, including requirements, goals, and constraints. The report proposes additional management capabilities and services to support intents and their life-cycle management, and recommends whether existing intent models and semantics can be leveraged. It also suggests how conflicting intents can be handled. The results from the study provide the basis for the new normative specification on Intent-driven Closed Loops which the ETSI ZSM will work on in 2023.

Leveraging the ZSM key automation technologies across the industry can help to ensure cross-use cases, cross-domains, cross-planes, interoperable, unified and consistent automation and cognitive operations. It can also help to provide a unified experience for the consumers of the management domains (e.g. CSPs, digital store fronts, web portals, BSS components). Over the years, the ETSI ZSM group has established fruitful collaborations with key organizations, striving to promote the adoption and alignment with the ZSM architecture and solutions and ensuring that automated end-to-end network and service management can be achieved. We can already see significant results with a level of adoption and alignment across the industry. The following are a few examples: the ZSM architecture was leveraged by GSMA NG.127 - E2E Network Slicing Architecture paper; the ONAP management components were mapped to the ZSM architecture. In this context I recommend looking at ZSM PoC#3 which is based on ONAP implementation compliant with the ZSM standards. Further examples are: 3GPP SA5 SBMA is aligned with the ZSM architecture; SA5 MnSs are leveraged for the ZSM end-to-end solution; ZSM core technologies are leveraged by SA5; the O-RAN’s SMO (Service Management and Orchestration) and non-Real-time RIC (RAN Intelligent Controller) architectures were inspired by the ZSM architecture and principles.

Three collaborations that took place in 2022 are particularly noteworthy. ETSI ZSM held a number of insightful and fruitful workshops with the O-RAN ALLIANCE, ITU-T FG-AN and TMF, identifying touch points, gaps and areas for deep dive and further alignment. These are essential steps towards achieving the alignment and leveraging of synergies across the industry, as well as accelerating the network automation transformation and its adoption. As said by Ali Rao, Analysys Mason, “Collaboration among SDOs is critical to accelerate Telco automation – ETSI ZSM is the glue that holds all of them together from an end to end automation perspective”.

The ETSI ZSM group encourages PoCs to demonstrate the viability of ZSM implementations. The results and lessons learned from the ZSM PoCs are also channeled to the ISG ZSM specification work. In 2022 we were updated by a number of PoCs which demonstrated key elements of zero-touch, end-to-end network and service automation. ZSM PoC#3 demonstrated the automation of the Intent-based cloud leased line (CLL) use-case. ZSM PoC#4 demonstrated cross-domain orchestration and automation of autonomous network slicing (between the end-to-end management domain, the transport network management domain, the core network management domain and the data network management domain). ZSM PoC#5 showcased the ability to provision a 5G private network for an industry running a 4.0 service, on demand, with no human intervention (zero-touch). ZSM PoC#6 demonstrated a security SLA (Service Level Agreement) assurance in 5G network slices, using closed loops across multiple domains and sites.

Among other opportunities, the ZSM PoCs were presented in the highly successful and well-attended ZSM Forums that were hosted by Layer123 at both the Layer123 Reunion Congress 2022 and Layer123 World Congress 2022. In his review, “Layer123 Reunion Congress: ETSI ZSM takes centerstage”, Stephane Teral, the Chief Analyst at LightCounting, highlights the delivery of a “comprehensive state of the art view of ETSI’s Zero-touch network and Service Management (ZSM) initiative in a one-day ETSI ZSM Forum held on April 26. It clearly showed significant progress in a complex environment characterized by many moving parts coming from various organizations.”.

2022 was without doubt an amazing year and we definitely managed to create great momentum in the industry, although there is a still a lot of work ahead of us.

The ETSI ZSM group continues to work with full force to accelerate the network automation transformation and provide the next level of details to enable interoperable solutions and ensure that future operational processes and tasks can be executed automatically and in an end-to-end manner. In particular, it strives to specify capabilities in ETSI GS ZSM 016 to support intent-driven closed loops that will satisfy the business objectives provided by the ZSM consumers. The specification will focus on intent-driven governance and coordination of closed loops.

The group is also working to specify requirements and security capabilities (ETSI ZSM 014) to support the automatic security assurance of the ZSM framework, management application and services. The threat surface in the ZSM environment is extensive, firstly due to the openness of the framework. In addition, the ZSM services can be produced and consumed by new players coming from diverse industries (e.g. government, vehicle industry, energy, transport, etc.). Each player may require different trust levels according to its own deployment/execution environments, security policies and regulations. This variety demands flexible and adaptive security control.  Furthermore, the ZSM framework leverages emerging technologies, such as AI/ML, data lake, cloud, etc., which introduce a new level of vulnerability to attacks and impose additional security requirements. ETSI GR ZSM 010 is used as a basis for this work. It presents a comprehensive security study, identifying and analyzing potential security threats and assessing the related risk scores and priorities.  The report proposes mitigation options, countermeasures and security controls to address the threats and risks to the ZSM framework and solutions. Having native security (e.g. an adaptive secured framework, access control, trustworthiness, data protection) can help to establish confidence and instill trust in the automated processes that it delivers to the intended business outcomes.

We are making progress on two important studies. ETSI GR ZSM 009-3 investigates advanced topics related to closed-loop operations, such as learning and cognitive capabilities, ways to set and evaluate different levels of supervision, autonomy and operational confidence in the behavior of closed loops. ETSI GR ZSM 015 explores how Network Digital Twin capabilities can empower zero-touch automation to analyze, predict , simulate, diagnose, emulate and test scenarios without an adverse impact on the physical world, as well as recommend/trigger effective actions in the real world.

As I expressed in my chat with Bill Yates during the Layer123 Reunion Congress 2022
(see  ETSI ZSM: “End to end automation is a big deal”), end-to-end automation is a “big deal”. The use of AI/ML will evolve incrementally and learnings from real deployments need to be fed into the standardization work. Intent-driven network and service/slice automation will be key elements in the effort to provide a zero-touch/zero-problem experience and to simplify automation by hiding the complexity of the federated Telco capabilities.

Experimental and showcased ZSM solutions are essential to demonstrate the viability of the technology. Please join us! Help demonstrate ZSM PoCs and contribute to the important work we are doing to support the exciting automation journey.

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