As network pros look to better manage services on next-generation enterprise networks -- and avoid too-common finger-pointing over connectivity problems -- networking vendors are starting to take a page from the telecom carrier book on quality assurance even as those carriers look to more deeply integrate their services with the enterprise.
Much of that cross-over work is being done with integrating OSS (operations support systems) and BSS (business support systems) -- programs that help communications service providers monitor, control, analyze and manage networks and run business operations to their customers -- deeper into the enterprise network. Telecom carriers have traditionally used both tools to provision and maintain service quality, and if enterprises could tap into the same information, service quality problems might be easier to diagnose and contracts could better outline service-level agreements.
These growing links also satisfy a mutual business need. Particularly in a slow economy, enterprises are demanding clearer ROI metrics from IT organizations even while demanding greater reliability, and networking vendors are working to help find quick answers to these problems.
One problem area being tackled is making the outsourcing of some services easier while providing a standard language to ensure that when service providers and enterprises agree on a contract, they both understand the terms.
"The more people turn to … outsourcing, it's like going from government to the private sector: Now you have to really perform," said Jeff Cotrupe, founder and CEO of networking and telecommunications consultancy MarketPOWER, LLC. "That is also what is finally pushing the enterprise toward the services approach and things like internal charge-backs."
These changes occur as telecom carriers are looking to derive new revenue streams of their own from lucrative enterprise services. To do that, however, they must be able to provide more comprehensive and more measurable results that not only extend across their networks but also deliver consistent quality in the networks of their customers.
As these metrics are developed and communicated into the enterprise, companies have then begun applying them internally as well, putting more focus on ROI with their IT and assessing how each segment of a business adds to IT costs.
In short, enterprise and telecommunications networks alike are looking for a more complete, holistic -- yet measurable -- standard for quality service.
"When I was analyzing this business in the 1990s, it was all about network management," Cotrupe said. "People have been talking about service management for a long time, but now you really have to mean it."
One of the clearest points of this intersection, and a possible harbinger of things to come, are trade organizations like the Telemanagement Forum (TMF), whose 600-plus membership is focused on operations and systems for managing IP communications and, increasingly, developing ways to better work with enterprise networks.
Cotrupe, who has worked with TMF for several years, said that organization had begun with a sharper enterprise focus, shifted to become heavily telecommunications centric, and is currently moving back toward focusing on enterprise needs.
"Each of the two worlds [enterprise and telecommunications] is finally able to learn from the other," he said.
So what is TMF doing for the enterprise?
"We are mainly involved in OSS and BSS solutions that will help companies transform their organization," said Debbie Burkett, director of market collaboration with TMF. "We are mostly concerned about the management interfaces."
Burkett said much of that work was on developing common standards and, perhaps more importantly, developing standard ways to discuss how services are offered over next-generation enterprise networks.
"In the old days, back when eTOM [enhanced Telecom Operations Map] was just a telecom communications map, we had a real difficult time getting telecommunications companies to … drill down into the little stuff: 'That's our service differentiation factor, and if I tell others, I'll lose something,' " she recalled. "I think we're over that portion of stigma relating to collaborating in the TMF today. People recognize a real value in being able to describe what enterprises need, and that's commoditizing the basics, the table stakes, and then being able to differentiate through products and services."
TMF has also begun taking a closer look at device management, Burkett said, and has been reaching out to other organizations to help determine what companies need and how they can help be a part of the solution.
"One thing we do very well is liaison with other organizations," she said. "It's really about getting the value chain to collaborate on the major issues and come together with a common solution."
If OSS concerns seem far removed right now from most networking roles, some more practical effects should also be welcome news.
Discussions with service providers can quickly move to high-level value rather than spending days debating what language to use to determine service-level agreements and the metrics to judge them. And, particularly welcome for international enterprises, global standards mean simplified contracts with consistent results whether your branch office is in Ohio or Argentina, and cross-service provider services will be easier to obtain.
Lest networking professionals worry about telecom types mucking too much with their networks, Burkett was quick to note that TMF has drawn lines on what they will work to improve and what they will leave well alone.
"You won't find us doing things like changing protocols over a wire," she said. "We leave that to IEEE."
So what does all this mean for those creating next-generation enterprise networks? While more services will continue to be outsourced to service providers, areas of competitive advantage will grow even more important to enterprises, as will the ability to determine what services are needed and how they should be delivered.
It also means more accountability and visibility, both when dealing with telecom carriers and when dealing with internal departments -- and more sophisticated tools to help with both.