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Service Provider  /   Network Intelligence  /  

Cisco SONFlex

Taking your RAN automation to the next level

1. Overview

Operators are facing network optimization challenges that require a best-of-breed, centralized, vendor-agnostic, highly flexible and open Self Optimizing Network (SON) solution. Such a solution needs to combine industry leading software, technical expertise, and Tier-1 experience, along with the roadmap, vision and stability that can only be offered by an industry leading company. Cisco has developed a SON solution that works in multi-vendor deployments based on any combination of cellular technologies. RAN nodes may be supplied by any major vendor; multiple data-source vendors are supported. Cisco SON is a robust, carrier grade solution, based on field proven algorithms that are deployed over more than three million cells globally, in the networks of virtually all major network operators in North America and Europe. The breakthrough SON technology developed by Cisco changed the very nature and capabilities of radio access network optimization.

As the industry moves to deliver connected experiences, the SON technology must to evolve to better serve emerging demands. This next phase in SON development is to enable operators to use SON internal capabilities, network visibility and integration with multiple network domains, network applications and data sources. SONFlex will make SON an extremely flexible platform by leveraging a very unique Network Visibility Infrastructure. SONFlex is built as a modular architecture that allows rapid adaptation to any new RAN vendor or any new data feed that can be utilized in the SON applications, and has the ability to interface to any customer-specific systems and architectures. Using the SONFlex APIs, your SON is turning to new data sources such as real-time or near real-time network data from geolocation systems and crowdsourcing.

Using SONFlex APIs and infrastructure will enable SPs to take RAN automation to the next level, opening the market leading SON platform to operator led innovation. SONFlex allows Cisco and its customers to develop and deploy SON applications independent from the core SON platform and its release milestones. This enables agile development with shorter timeto- market while reducing the need for SON expertise when developing new apps. SONFlex APIs can also be used for ONAP-based application development, bridging the gaps in Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) maturity and functionality (for RAN optimization) and enabling ONAP use today for optimizing the radio access networks. SONFlex’s independence from the core SON platform also enables software upgrades (e.g. new version) without interfering with existing SONFlex applications.

It is a commonly recognized trend that cloud management concepts, such as ONAP, will be applied to all network domains (RAN, CN, BH/FH, Gi- LAN, IMS, AS, NFV, etc.). With uniform facilities for collection/storage of the network data such as performance measurements and alarms, and a uniform configuration interface, such an architecture is ideal for functions like Cisco SON Multi-Domain Service Optimization (MDSO) that require access to various network domains. This will include a SONFlex extension with utilization of additional data sources and configuration capabilities in multiple network domains.

2. Centralized SON solutions

The most widely deployed type of SON solutions is NMS-based Centralized SON (cSON), due to its inherent multivendor multi-technology nature and wide visibility of the network. Cisco’s NMS level cSON is the most deployed cSON solution in the world (over 3M cells worldwide). The Cisco cSON is supplied with a set of SON applications that provide solutions for the majority of RAN deployment configurations. However, every particular operator may have specific challenges and different operational practices, which can be addressed by tailoring of the cSON system to the specific operator’s needs.

The SONFlex platform is a comprehensive tool for such customization. The platform provides the customer with visibility of the API to the SON Core on top of which the SON applications are running. In addition, the platform provides an easy to use GUI application development tool called SONFlex studio that enables the customers to develop their own unique applications. These applications can target network optimization, but can also help RAN engineers to automate their routine tasks, for example, the collection and analysis of network data. The important part is that the SONFlex platform provides for coordination and resolution of collisions between the original SON applications and the customer’s additional application which otherwise could cause network degradation

SONFlex enables convenient integration of external data sources for customer centric solutions (e.g. based on CEM info).

Evaluation provided together with customers, shows significant enhancement of the achievable automation levels. Importantly, with the SONFlex studio, creation of simple network applications can be done via the GUI-based tool, which does not require any coding skills. The platform also supports debugging and testing of the application on the live network. These capabilities significantly shorten the SON release cycle. The SONFlex platform enables operators to create their own applications that can address their “niche” use-cases.

The SONFlex platform was announced and demonstrated in MWC 2018 this past February.

3. SONFlex in the cloud: Integration with ONAP

The SONFlex architecture, and SONFlex APIs can be used in the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP) environment to enable operators to use ONAP to optimize their existing network infrastructure. Cisco along with a US Tier-1 operator demonstratedrunning a closed loop SON use-case on ONAP platform, with different micro services using SONFlex APIs to get network visibility information andSON insights to take the action into the RAN via the SON platform and manage conflicts with the other SON applications.

4. SONFlex as a 5G transition enabler

Mobile networks will become even more complex with the evolution to 5G. These networks will include a greater mix of technologies including 3G, 4G/LTE and 5G using a mix of different RAN vendors, technologies, hardware types, and software versions simultaneously. In such an environment, SONFlex will play the role of the engine harmonizing the differences, enabling vendor and technology agnostic applications while providing uniform access to network management systems (e.g. EMS). In cloud-based environments, SONFlex can be used for interface to the SDN controller(s) and/or to the streaming data sources like ONAP DCAE.

An “Open SON” approach critically depends on enabling the simultaneous operation of multiple SON applications. This is achieved by having the applications orchestrated by Cisco Conflict Management Service providing support for best-of-breed applications, operator’s applications, and Cisco applications.

5. Innovation

Cisco SONFlex is your engine for innovation, this is an essential change in how we view and use SON in both the technology and business levels.

The SONFlex technology provides a set of open and well defined APIs allowing operators to add a new layer of operational applications using Cisco Centralized SON infrastructure. Cisco SONFlex enables:

  • Increased automation – Using open API, SONFlex allows the operator to write their own automation applications and easily integrate them with existing Cisco SON applications.
  • Rapid application deployment – Applications developed on SONFlex infrastructure are deployed by plugging them into the existing Cisco SON system without having to overhaul the entire system.
  • Adding new data sources – Using the open APIs provided by SONFlex, operators can add data from new sources to Cisco SON database.
  • Multi-Vendor support - SONFlex obscures the complexities of the underlying vendor equipment and management systems.
  • Robust conflicts resolution – SONFlex provides conflict management services, essential to enabling multiple SON applications that optimize the network simultaneously.
  • Enabler for using ONAP for managing current networks – SONFlex APIs allow flexible deployment of SON application containers, either on SONFlex local cloud, or on any micro-services platform such as ONAP. The SONFlex APIs can be used from ONAP to address many ONAP gaps such as providing the mediation layer to allow managing the current networks (which do not support Netconf/YANG) from ONAP SDN-R controller. It will also provide other SON insights not available in ONAP and conflict management between simultaneous SON apps. 

Cisco SONFlex solves the following business problems:

  • Automate RAN deployment, configuration and optimization - Increase value and productivity of operator’s radio engineers. Focus on decision making with SON automating routine tasks. Automating tasks done manually or by scripts – avoid risks of working with external “stale” spreadsheets and causing on network and SON conflicts.
  • Fast customization to address market needs as they arise, tailored to challenges, operational practices, and services launch.
  • Enable operators to introduce innovative best of breed solutions, significantly reducing the huge cost of introducing a new solution successfully into the RAN. 
  • SONFlex enables simultaneous operation with other apps, orchestrated by SONFlex Conflict Management Service.
  • Full creativity and autonomy for the operator to develop their own “secret sauce” apps (no IP exposure).

SONFlex solves the following technical problems for you:

  • Get access to Cisco’s market leading powerful closed-loop SON engine with feedback and conflict management.
  • Hide the complexities of the underlying networks and EMS. The network is comprised from multi-vendor and multitechnology equipment with different RAN versions. SONFlex harmonizes the differences, enabling vendor agnostic (and release agnostic) apps. SON manages the changes across multi-vendor EMS systems as transactions.
  • Intent-driven optimization with Cisco SON’s insights and feedback. Enable to easily detect relevant network elements for optimization (e.g. meaningful neighbors and cells with intersecting coverage) and to use SONFlex Feedback service to avoid degradation and automatically revert bad actions.
  • Enable simultaneous operation of multiple SON applications, including best-of-breed applications, Operator’s applications, and market-level automation, orchestrated by Cisco Conflict Management Service.

Web based SONFlex Studio can be used for light-weight automation apps by non-programmers (e.g. radio engineers) for fast innovations or to reduce their manual scripting time. SONFlex studio increase the value and productivity of radio engineers – which can focus on decision making vs. routine tasks, to avoid risks of using obsolete info (e.g. excel) and SON conflicts. Each new SONFlex application has zero TTM to address market needs, it can be tailored to market challenges and needs, operational practices and services launch. This enables extreme automation even for market specific needs.

6. Conclusion

Cisco SON, SONFlex and SONFlex Studio are an important piece of the entire Cisco 5G Value Chain. Cisco is taking a Multi-cloud-to-Client approach, unifying multivendor solutions into a single, secure, standards-based architecture. And emphasizing that with the proper secure network customers can start delivering 5G services today in a Cloudscale Mobile Internet for business, consumer, and IOT–bringing in “new 5G money” with a compelling value chain. 5G is where the breadth of Cisco matters–because we do service enablement, the services themselves, the 5G core, the IP transport, the cloud, etc. – we can truly optimize and secure across the entire service layer.

Cisco SONFlex
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