By Wickus Buys, Program Director, Middle East and Africa,
Optiva • June 16, 2022
Wickus Buys has been with Optiva since 2017 and has a career spanning more than 20 years in the Professional Services domain. He holds a N Dip in Electrical Engineering from the Central University of Technology in South Africa. Wickus has delivered numerous projects for mobile operators throughout Africa, Middle East, Europe, and India. He is passionate about project management and delivery and appreciates working across continents where multicultural perspectives can positively contribute to successful project deliveries.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things of certainty are Death and Taxes.”
I believe that there is a third certainty that can be added to this wise quote, and that is the certainty of constant change and evolution in the telecommunications industry.
If we look back over the past 20 years or so on how things have changed and improved in the way that we deliver complex software projects, one can only imagine how the current-bleeding edge technology will change and further advance in the next 20 years.
I can still clearly remember as a junior engineer how fresh installations were done from CDs to be replaced later on by DVDs. Configuration was done sitting in front of the system in a data center, wearing a thick jacket to survive the temperature, resembling the Arctic. Testing was done manually, and when I refer to testing, the test manuals consisted of hundreds and, in some cases, even thousands of test cases and scenarios. This manual testing took extensive effort, and looking back today, I could have spent those 18-hour day marathon testing campaigns more enjoyably.
With the evolution of cloud technology and automation tools, today, we have technological advantages that have changed project deployment for the better.
With virtualisation, the concept of layered software deployment is a reality. Starting with the base layer or the orchestration layer, which forms the basis for cloud virtualization, we continue to deploy the application on top of the virtualisation layer. Finally, spinning up and cloning new pods is a trivial task and done basically on the fly.
I was amazed to see that new pods are spinned and cloned in less than an hour. In the past, it was a small project on its own to ensure that new elements were exactly the same from a configuration perspective. This also completely changes the delivery sequence and allows dramatically shortened overall project delivery timelines.
Gone are the days when every customer had its own specific customisations and the inefficiencies of maintaining all these specific customisations. The approach now being followed is a productised software approach, where customisation requests are assessed and incorporated directly into the software product to be available for all customers, allowing a feature-rich product. This ensures constant product evolution, brings value to all users, and allows them to launch a variety of offerings with the OOTB features at high speed.
Productization of software requires operators to adapt as customizations sometimes didn’t really support building a unique service and offering identity, and ultimately did not achieve a technical advantage.
In the past, operators avoided or tried to postpone new software version installations as these were risky to the business continuity and required downtime and massive effort from operator personnel. This was a vicious cycle — the longer the postponement, the more risky it became, and more resources were required to ensure the software version upgrade a success. The constant integration and constant development (CI/CD) concept ensures that software corrections and new functionalities can be introduced to a platform more efficiently and effectively. As a result, upgrades can be done in a very short period of time with reduced risk and simplified fallback.
Maintenance windows have been reduced as upgrades and updates can be conducted online in case of non-service impacting elements. In one case, we have a customer implementation on public cloud, allowing us to roll out more than eight new software versions quickly to meet their evolving business and operational needs.
Testing has always been a resource and time-consuming activity in telecommunications projects. Rightly so, as this is the optimal way to ensure the functionality and integrity of the services that will be launched in production for commercial use.
Once test automation has been set up to align with the project test scope, the benefits are significant. Test automation enables one to conduct a large number of test cases in an automated fashion, and the test results can be reviewed easily and effectively. It is even possible to run every possible combination of a test scenario, which would take a very long time with manual testing.
Failed test cases can be analyzed in detail, and once corrected, these test cases can be conducted again in an automated way, or even the entire test suite can be executed. Test automation can be executed, for example, at the end of a workday to run through the night, and the test results can be viewed in the morning, reducing project timelines significantly.
In a recent project, we executed more than six million test cases utilizing test automation. Every possible combination of all the use cases was executed in roughly two days.
Test automation brings the benefit of testing much faster compared to the past, but people want to be sure that they can trust the test results achieved through test automation. This means that, in some cases, people want to benchmark their manual test results against the automated test results to see that they can trust automated testing.
Adopting these new capabilities and methodologies require telecom operators to let go of the existing status quo and create new ones, transforming the processes and organization. This is not an easy task at all!
In summary, I can understand the excitement about cloud technology and automation. The benefits are extensive not only for operators but also for vendors. The technology lends itself to much faster project deployment, and the benefits from an operational perspective speak for themselves. I am excited for the future of telecommunications and to see where the cloud will take us.
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