Bell Canada says open source ONAP adds modularity, flexibility to its network

Bell Canada has become one of the first service providers to deploy Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), focusing its initial attention on automating its data center tenant network provisioning process.

By making this transition in its network, the service provider said it will provide its operations teams with a new tool to improve efficiency and time to market.

This is the first step in using ONAP as a common platform across Bell’s networks on its journey towards a multipartner DevOps model.

RELATED: AT&T confirms Bell Canada is trialing software-based ECOMP platform

Implementing ONAP is part of Bell Canada’s Network 3.0 transformation initiative. Bell and its partners used Agile delivery to launch a minimum viable product with the platform and will continue to adapt it to ensure that it best supports the needs of its customers.

Tamer Shenouda, director of Network Transformation for Bell, told FierceTelecom the implementation of ONAP will tie together its growing rollout of SDN controllers and virtual functions it has deployed in its network.


“We have had some successes and implementations of SDN controllers and virtual network functions,” Shenouda said. “ONAP is how we tie all of that together.”

The service provider has also leveraged the capabilities of ONAP Operations Manager (OOM) to simplify deployments, an element it said has reduced its footprint and enabled continuous delivery.

A key goal for the company was to get ONAP in production mode by the end of the year.

As a founding Platinum Member of ONAP, Bell joined fellow service provider Orange in testing ONAP when it was initially part of AT&T’s ECOMP effort.

ECOMP, which was later released as an open-source software in the first quarter earlier this year to become ONAP, was designed by AT&T to be accessible to other traditional service providers and cloud providers.

“We were looking at how to create an orchestration layer that spans all of our different network services and domains,” Shenouda said. “We have wireless, wireline and a media presence as well, but what attracted us to ECOMP was that it was holistic and had been proven in production.”

Shenouda added that ECOMP, now ONAP, offers a modular approach to implementing virtual functions across its diverse network sets.

“It also served more than a platform so we could build our own layers on top of that and create differentiation,” Shenouda said. “We can source in components in areas where we did not have the expertise or areas we did not want to focus on right away.”

Multi-use structure

Like other service providers, Bell Canada is going to apply ONAP and SDN to various use cases within its network.

While the service provider has implemented ONAP to enable popular applications like SD-WAN and others, the service provider says that by initially focusing on the data center it can enable it to rapidly create new applications.

The service provider saw that the data center team had an initial use for automating functions that ONAP could satisfy.

“Our data center team was looking for some support to automate some of the functions they were doing manually or semi-manually,” Shenouda said. “We said there’s a real operational requirement for this with data centers and we have more use cases in the pipeline for wireline and wireless.”


But Bell Canada is not just an ONAP user. Like AT&T, the service provider is also a contributor of new features to the open source community like ONAP Operations Manager (OOM).

As more parts of the company look to adopt ONAP for their own functions, the development of the OOM feature enables Bell Canada to enable these groups to independently develop applications that are relevant to their roles in the service provider. OOM repackages ONAP into containers orchestrated through Kubernetes, which enables the service provider to deploy applications quickly and features

“Even though we have a relatively small team, we needed everyone to use this and execute their user stories without stepping on each other’s toes,” Shenouda said. “OOM is a way to do that.”

While Shenouda could not share how much of Bell’s network has been virtualized today, the service provider has made a lot of progress with data centers and its core network.

“We have a common architecture and common vision everyone is working towards,” Shenouda said. “We have a lot of our core network that has been virtualized.”

The service provider is taking a three-step process to implementing virtualization throughout its network: virtualize functions, virtualize it in the common data centers and COs, and get all of it orchestrated through ONAP.

Another element is network automation. Along with conducting service assurance, Bell Canada will also implement closed loop automation.

“The question is how do we take some service assurance on some real-time network events, learn from them?,” Shenouda said. “That becomes a continuous loop where we gain more and more understanding on the network’s behavior and how we serve customers better.”

A cultural transformation

Bell Canada’s implementation of ONAP and virtualization across its wireline and wireless networks is not just a technology transition, but also enabling its operations team to automate more functions.

“We have focused not only on the technology, but also the people and the process side,” Shenouda said. “It’s a cultural transformation as much as it’s a technology transformation.”

A key focus in enabling this cultural shift is the use of working in DevOps, a software engineering culture and practice that aims at unifying software development (Dev) and software operation (Ops).

What’s compelling for Bell Canada about DevOps is that DevOps is its focus on automation and monitoring at all steps of software construction, including integration, testing, releasing as well as from deployment and infrastructure management.

The will be jointly delivered by a team within Bell Canada and partners like Amdocs.

But Shenouda said that Bell Canada wants to make it easy for its operations team to apply the ONAP capabilities in their daily jobs.

“We don’t want to create something and just throw it up over the fence to operations,” Shenouda said. “The question was how do we operate this platform and make it easy for each member of our operations team can use as a tool?”

Shenouda added that we wanted to “make a common platform that every team in Bell, whether it’s wireline, wireless or security can use to automate their own domain.”

To reach its goals to enable its operations team, Bell Canada set a lofty goal to have ONAP operational by the end of the year.

Like other service providers, Bell Canada is not immune to the various obstacles to deploying ONAP. These obstacles include the size of the platform and the merging of Open-O.

“The point was not to set an artificial date, but rather to see if we want to be good at operating this, we need to have it in production,” Shenouda said. “What we said was what are the minimum set of components to achieve our goal which is to get to production.”

This article was updated on Dec 12 with pictures and additional information from Bell Canada.