Zero-Touch Provisioning… Really?

By Ronan Bracken
Ronan Bracken

Zero-touch provisioning (ZTP) — whatever does that mean?

Of course, it is another marketing term. I think the term "closer to zero touch provisioning" is probably better, but CTZTP — as opposed to ZTP — is a bit more of a mouthful.

Whenever I hear language like this that I'm not familiar with, I get struck by a bolt of curiosity. What is this new and shiny phrase that has just appeared as if from nowhere?

Zero means zero, right? So by zero-touch provisioning, I was expecting to be dazzled. Services could be delivered to the customer without anyone having to put their hands near anything. How was this going to be done? Had someone invented a system run by robots and mind-control? Did we just need to think about what we wanted and it would get done?

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Some touches were required. Whole networks needed to be in place and this was going to require some physical touches. Already we are way above zero.

Okay, so ZTP is probably based on the assumption that the infrastructure is in place. Is there a case to be made for zero touches? I'm still not seeing it. Someone still needs to take the customer order. If it is a new customer, then usually someone needs to go onsite. The service still needs to be checked to ensure it meets the standards required; at a minimum, the customer needs to access the internet, see a TV channel, or get a dial-tone.

For the sake of getting to our goal of zero touches, we can make that process better. How about we just ship the required devices to the customer? That makes it so the customer just needs to plug-in, turn on, and connect to the network. Okay, so this is still not quite zero-touch as the customer needs to do something, but it is zero touches for us. Now we don't need to send someone onsite. That helps a lot. Not only do we save on labor costs but the customer becomes a shade more technical.

But what if there's a problem? Now the customer has plugged everything in and they're not getting service. So much for the great plan of just shipping the device out! Well, actually, this is where we can get really creative.

Nowadays, we can generally determine if and when a device is connected. Once we know the device is connected, we can then ensure that the service is good quality, e.g. using TR-069, SNMP, IPDR, and so on.

Before we can do this though, we need to map a device to a customer order. In other words, even if a device comes online, how do I know that this device is sitting in the right customer's premise? There are ways to deal with this, for example:

  1. Log the device that is sent to the customer address prior to delivery
  2. Once the device is plugged in, use a walled garden to discover the device information and map that back to the customer. Once the customer tries to access the Internet, they will be redirected to a walled garden. This redirection captures the device information, thereby registering the device.

In both cases above, once the device is properly associated with the customer and is online services will be set up and the service assurance workflows will be triggered. Decreasing the touches generally means increasing the automation. As we get closer and closer to zero touches, the automation increases and gets more complex.

I'm sure you're also seeing other options here. NFV and SDN can contribute greatly to this. In my mind's eye, "zero touch" is a bit like that exponential decay curve that will forever go towards zero but never quite reach it. So even though it will probably never be literally "zero touch", I get the idea. The more we can remove "touches" from the process, the easier it will be to deploy new devices and make the whole provisioning cycle so much easier.

We offer a white paper with more information about getting as close as possible to zero-touch provisioning.

By Ronan Bracken, SAC Product Manager at Incognito Software Systems

Related topics: Access Providers, Telecom

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