Turn on automation of your FTTH network
The distributed nature of a fiber to the home network means that you will have equipment spread out and you might not always do the on-site installation yourself. If every switch has to pass your desk for pre-configuration port before getting deployed into the field you will need to deal with the logistics of getting the units from your warehouse via your desk, packing and unpacking, and clearly marking them so that the right unit goes into the right location. Network topology do matter and therefore a pre-configured switch need to be in the exact location where intended or chances are you will spend the afternoon trying to instruct a field engineer what to type over the console port to make the necessary changes on the fly.
While this approach might work for the first 50 or so switches you deploy, as the network grows bigger and fiber connection take rate increase the rate of deployment will accelerate. Your desktop quickly becomes a bottleneck and when either you or the field guys mess up there are hours lost trying to fix what went wrong to move the process forward. At this point either a homegrown solution or some off-the-shelf network automation software starts to look really attractive.
Automating the configuration of network equipment is one of the most rewarding actions you can take. First of all the automated system saves time. Secondly it tends to get the configuration right more often than humans, reducing the number of mistakes to due missing or wrong configuration in the unit. Thirdly, if it also can configure the switches right out of the box when deployed into the field, you no longer need to have your desktop in the logistics chain but if something does go wrong the field engineer just has to restart the switch to attempt a new configuration download once you have corrected the error server-side.
Sweden was early out in adopting FTTH. The first large-scale deployments started already in 1999-2000. It is perhaps no surprise that there are so many Swedish companies specializing in mass-automation of network equipment. PacketFront Software, NetAdmin, COS Systems and Zemware just to mention a few. Add to that networks using open-source tools or home-grown solutions. The Swedish FTTH installation is one of the most automated in the world. It is therefore interesting to follow the "new" Software Defined Networking (SDN) evolution which basically is automation of service deployment - something we have done in FTTH networks for almost 20 years.
When speaking with our customers today, there is no-one that wants to go back on automation. But it can be a hurdle, and sometimes our friends in the automation software business have a challenge convincing that the costs involved actually pays off. But they do not least thanks to the additional benefits of automation you get in addition to removing those human tasks I mentioned before. You also get a perfect network inventory with firmare control, very high accuracy between paying customers and services delivered, self-service web-portals with instantaneous changes made by the customer reflected into configuration of the network and so on.
Waystream ASR and MS series of switches support zero-touch automated deployment. The units are designed to be deployed straight out of the box with nothing but factory default setup. Once connected to the network the unit uses standard protocols to obtain both startup configuration and the right firmware version to run. Until you log in and save the configuration, the process can be repeated endlessly by a simple power off/on. If the configuration cannot be downloaded or is wrong, this easy mechanism allows corrections to be made and instantly applied - so if something has been wrongly patched or plans need a last minute change, you can still get the connection going.
In addition the command language of the iBOS firmware used with MS and ASR series is designed for automation. So even after deployment you can use scripts or automation tools to reliably update configuration to reflect service changes in the network. Automation saves you time, allows the deployment to scale and ensures that the correct configuration is applied everywhere.
For tips on automation tools and solutions, get in touch with us at Waystream. We have worked with many of the leading tools and can give you some ideas about what suits your particular needs.