Many of the world’s largest service providers, network operators and enterprises use the Packet Design Explorer Suite, which gives us the opportunity to see how they operate. We get to witness the sorts of issues they deal with during their everyday operations and how they resolve many of them. We decided to share some of these stories periodically through the Life in the Control Plane blog series. After all, life in the control plane is never dull!
Network service providers are classified as Tier 1, 2 or 3 service providers. Tier 1 providers have reach across almost the entire Internet and can be referred to as the backbone of the Internet. They exchange traffic with other Tier 1 providers and provide connectivity to other providers and CDNs. In this blog, we share how Explorer Suite’s what-if modeling, planning and change management capabilities are used by one of the largest Tier 1 service providers in the world for network planning and maintenance.
Just as with any other Tier 1 service provider network, this network undergoes constant change. The most common changes are:
To handle these changes with minimal disruption to their services offerings, the provider has maintenance windows scheduled every night at midnight.
But due to the complexity of changes in the massive network and staff burn-out due to continuous after-midnight changes, there were numerous maintenance-related outages that were causing service disruptions. This meant that the provider had to roll-back many of the changes after issues were reported and retry them during the next maintenance window.
Their existing change management tool was only capable of comparing configurations syntax. It could not predict what the impact of maintenance changes on network state, traffic and routing behavior would be.
The service provider implemented the Explorer Suite to manage and monitor routing paths and VPNs, and take advantage of its planning capabilities for modeling changes in their network.
The service provider now makes use of the Explorer Suite’s planning mode to measure the impact of a change on the network. When they receive requests for new service provisioning, such as a new L3 VPN tunnel, the provider uses the product to model the change on the live network topology and calculate how it will affect network utilization and routing.
The same planning feature is also used to model changes to routing, such as adding and downing routers, peerings, prefixes, VPNs, VRFs, traffic engineering tunnels and multicast groups, or making changes to router metrics. This way, the service provider is able forecast the impact and plan for a network change before it affects network performance and data delivery. You can view a demo of how Explorer Suite can help with network planning here:
In addition to planning and what-if analysis, the service provider also needs to ensure that the state of the network after maintenance is as expected. For this, they use the Comparison Reports feature to compare the state of the network elements at two points in time – before and after a scheduled maintenance activity. From the comparison report, the provider can quickly identify if the state of a network device or link, prefixes or TE tunnels, have changed from up to down or vice versa, if attributes or paths have changed, or if FRR protection has been added or removed.
Both these capabilities have helped the service provider to not only reduce downtime after network changes but also manage and make changes quickly. The network engineers now spend less time on maintenance activities, improving their quality of life and freeing them to work on other projects.
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