In her article “Service assurance getting hotter,” on Connected Planet, Susana Schwartz correctly gauges the rising temperature of service assurance solutions in the telecommunications industry. The need for service assurance is indeed growing, as this category of tools empowers service providers to assess the health of their networks and the quality of the customer experience en route to delivering unquestionable service quality.
The way I see it, this increase in the importance of service assurance tools is extending across three major market transformations:
The move by business service providers from basic VPN services to application-aware VPN services
Because enterprises need to satisfy their business users' requirements for new collaborative solutions that provide a competitive edge, while also ensuring high quality on existing business-critical applications, demand for visibility at the application and end-user levels continues to grow significantly. In this context, the performance visibility offered by a conventional VPN service is no longer enough. Whether you're enterprise IT or a managed service provider(MSP), you need to make sure you have real-time insight into the interrelationships between the end-user quality of experience and the infrastructure supporting your critical business services. As such, MSPs are launching value-added VPN reporting services that entail visibility into business applications and unified communications performance (leveraging DPI, packet flow or xDR analysis techniques) and doing so up to the end user. These new services allow large enterprises to confirm the quality of experience offered to their lines of business–a successful example being the application monitoring service recently launched by Telstra.
The move by mobile operators from flat-rate billing to usage-based billing
Aggressive pricing to capture market share with flat-rate data plans combined with a need to support the exploding volume of network traffic has been pushing down mobile data services' average revenue per user (ARPU). As a result, there is little choice but to evolve data plans from a flat-rate approach to usage-based billing. At the same time, mobile service providers are required to deliver on the stringent performance objectives of their private APN SLAs demanded by business customers. To accomplish this requires a better understanding of how subscribers and business customers consume data services–such as what applications they use, how much, and when. Without this insight it is difficult, if not impossible, to strategically upgrade network capacity or to participate in policy-shaping discussions. This shift also comes with a requisite transformation in OSS capabilities, which some service assurance providers are poised to address for their mobile service provider customers.
In addition, mobile service providers are investigating ways to enable subscribers to delay their usage of the service in exchange for a bandwidth credit. This is similar to an airline offering an incentive to passengers on an overbooked flight to take a later one. This practice will allow mobile service providers to provide an acceptable choice to customers in situations where there is some data service saturation and will lead to an increase in customer satisfaction without having to invest in all silos of the mobile infrastructure. But, once again, this requires visibility at the subscriber level and the ability to communicate with customers concerning their specific usage through customer portals.
The evolution of the data center into private cloud services
As enterprises are building their private cloud or outsourcing their data centers to managed service providers, they will need to ensure application service quality to their internal business users. To prevent what analyst firm EMA refers to as a “wild west” approach to cloud service management and ensure “The Responsible Cloud,” application-aware network performance management solutions will need to be in place to complement the private or hosted cloud service offering.
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