NNM i Was Inherited, and It Covered the Entire Network
A1 (formerly velcom) previously used the SolarWinds system to monitor the transport IP network. It monitored the behavior of approximately 1800 Cisco networking and telecommunications devices. The Network Node Manager i (NNM i) monitoring system was introduced following the acquisition of the Belarusian fixed-line operator Atlant Telecom in 2016. With the help of NNM i, its employees monitored approximately five thousand elements of the transport IP network – these being devices from various manufacturers, which is very typical for fixed-line companies.
“To decide which of the systems should be developed as the main one, the company’s procurement department organized a tender”, recalls Denis Strikharchuk, Head of Transmission Network Operation Department A1. “We needed to choose between SolarWinds and NNM i. The tender primarily estimated the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the systems over a five-year period, taking into account the likely development of the network and the addition of new elements to it. The result of a comprehensive TCO assessment was that the NNM i system won the tender.”
When choosing a product, the provider’s specialists evaluated, in particular, the time needed to localize incidents and the ability to automatically build a network topology.
“One of the benefits of NNM i is the ability to visualize the network topology. This feature was lacking in SolarWinds.” notes Vasily Vorohobko, Head of A1 Network Operations Center (NOC). “It greatly simplifies the resolution of incidents, as well as finding and identifying problems that arise within the network. Data collection from network elements is performed using standard SNMP capabilities.”
Soon, monitoring using NNM i tools covered the entire A1 (formerly velcom) network. Later events confirmed that the company had chosen the right product. In the course of expansion, the firm acquired a number of operators (Home Network, Garant in Gomel etc.). The NNM i system made it easy to take control of their networks elements. Some difficulties arose only when the company decided to expand the network based on the equipment of the Chinese company ZTE; integrating it with NNM i required additional effort and the manufacturer’s technical support and R&D specialists had to be connected to configure it.
A Tool for Preventing and Resolving Incidents
Now, A1 controls over 22.5 thousand elements of the IP transport network with the help of NNM i. The NNM i system helps to successfully solve the main tasks of network operation, including control over the utilization of its elements, round-the-clock monitoring of device operation, processing incidents and analyzing the situations that caused them, as well as handling customer requests.
“The Network Operations Center has a small team with a wide range of tasks,” notes Denis Strikharchuk. “NNM i helps to prioritize the network and keep it running smoothly while avoiding major disruptions. This is very important because we have many fixed-line subscribers. The network is more sensitive to and demanding on operating conditions than mobile communications. If one of the cell towers fails, users are automatically switched to other towers. If fixed-line clients lose access to the Internet, they immediately call the hotline. For this reason, we first need to focus on preventing incidents and, if they do occur, we must resolve them quickly.”
When serious failures occur, the analysis of monitoring data informs decisions on the dispatch of emergency teams. Understanding what happened and where makes it much easier to choose ways of correcting the malfunction.
According to Denis, the product allows you to combine several related incidents into one large one and send a single notification – this is used as a base to decide how and with what resources the incident is to be resolved. “With NNM i, it is possible to establish which incident is the parent (main) and which is the child and, based on this, we can decide which actions need to be implemented.”
“The NNM i system helps us to identify problems efficiently and categorize them automatically, which in turn allows us to quickly understand whether we are facing a major event or a minor one,” explains Darya Kaptsiuh, Engineer of Backbone Network Operation Group.
What is important is that the monitoring system helps to not only resolve incidents but also prevent them. “NNM i allows you to detect the signs of impending problems,” continues Darya. “We have configured NNM i alerts to find potential network weaknesses that need to be checked. We also monitor port utilization: When a certain load level is reached, the NNM i system issues alerts us and helps to spread the load over time. We also have other ways of identifying possible problems.”
Network Management Ecosystem
Initially, NNM i was deployed on a separate server running Windows Server 2012 R2, but it was then moved to a virtual environment. Over time, the configuration inherited from Atlant Telecom was supplemented with the Micro Focus Network Performance System (NPS) monitoring modules, and the automatic tracking of configurations and their changes was supplemented with Micro Focus Network Automation (NA). The NA module is also used as a tool for automating various operations for setting up and configuring communication devices and monitoring regulatory requirements and compliance with information security policies.
“NPS processes performance data and provides visualization, while NA allows you to automate some tasks and enforce policy rules on individual devices to ensure configurations meet our standards,” explains Darya.
Around 15 employees are direct users of NNM i. It is most commonly used by specialists from the Network Operations Center (NOC). In addition, the product is used by the network maintainers and the core network operations team. Individual NNM i functions are also available to the technical support team: Delegation of the simplest operations can reduce the burden on the network management staff.
Effective Monitoring of a Large-Scale Network
Thanks to the transition to NNM i, A1 has successfully implemented convenient and effective monitoring of a large number of devices. The ability to send notifications about incidents means that these can be addressed and solved.
“By retiring software tools from other manufacturers, we have significantly simplified license management and reduced the time and resources spent on their renewal,” says Denis Strikharchuk. “Against the backdrop of the general trend towards savings, we continue to renew licenses for Micro Focus products because we consider them effective: They help us better understand how our network works and what is happening in it. By switching to the NNM i system with its customizable visualization tools, we have significantly improved our understanding of the real structure of the network, its constituent elements and the connections between them – it has become more transparent and visible. The implementation of NNM i has made it possible to predict the occurrence of some problems and significantly reduced downtime when solving incidents. As a result, the quality of services provided to our customers has increased.”
“One of the advantages of NNM i, when compared with the previously used product, is the ability to visualize connections between network elements and manually configure this visualization,” notes Vasily Vorohobko. “Another important advantage is the ability to combine network elements into logical groups with a common functional purpose. This greatly simplifies both network management and incident resolution.”
Future Plans Intricately Involved with Micro Focus
There are plans to provide automatic notification of changes in configurations, connection or removal of network elements etc.
“It should be noted that there are backup tools and comparison of configurations and policies, as well as the breadth of variation of NNM i settings,” adds Darya Kaptsiuh.
In the near future, we plan to update NNM i and NPS. “We know that functionality has been significantly expanded in new versions: Promising opportunities have been introduced to allow you to automate network maintenance operations,” continues Darya. “Following the transition, we will probably start using the new metrics collection system, as well as scripting languages and other interesting product features.”
“We hope that new versions of Micro Focus systems will provide an even clearer picture of what is happening in the network, monitor all key events effectively and, if possible, prevent problems. All this will help improve the quality of our work, speed up the detection of incidents in the network and, as a result, reduce the total downtime,” adds Vasily Vorohobko.
The possibility of expanding the list of alerts for situations requiring the attention of network operators is also being explored. Furthermore, there are ongoing discussions on the prospects for automating the distribution of staff teams for handling incidents and the risks of software systems making incorrect decisions.
Another important area is integration with network equipment by Chinese companies, the offer of which is likely to grow. “In many countries of the world, telecom operators are switching to Chinese equipment because it offers good value for money and it also supports 5G technologies,” explains Denis Strikharchuk.
“We hope that the new versions of Micro Focus’ network management solutions will make it easier for Chinese vendors to integrate their products into the company’s network.”