Various forms of OSS Inventory

After reading other recent posts such as “Orders Down, Faults Up” and “How is OSS/BSS service and resource availability supposed to work?” an avid reader of the PAOSS blog posed the following brilliant question:

Do you have any thoughts on geospatial vs non geospatial network inventory systems? How often do you see physical plant mapping in a separate system from network inventory, with linkages or integrations between them, vs how often do you see physical and logical inventory being captured primarily in a geospatially oriented system?

Boy do I ever have some thoughts on this topic!! I’m sure you do too, so I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

I was lucky. The first OSS/BSS that I worked on (all the way back in 2000), had both geo and non-geo (topology) views. It also had a brilliantly flexible data model that accommodated physical and logical inventory. All tightly integrated into one package. There aren’t many tools that can do all of that even today. Like I said, I was lucky to have this as a starting point!!

Like all things OSS/BSS, it starts with the personas and the key tasks they need to perform. Or from the supplier’s perspective, which customer personas they’re most actively targeting.

For example, if you have a significant Outside Plant (OSP) Network, then geo-positioning is vital. The exchanges and comms huts are easy enough to find, but pits, cable routes, easements, etc are often harder to find. It’s not uncommon for a field tech to waste time searching for a pit that’s covered in dirt, grass or snow. And knowing the exact cable route in geo view is helpful for sending field techs to the exact location of a fault (ie helping them to pinpoint the location of the bright yellow excavator that has just sliced through your inter-capital link). Geo-view is also important for OSP designers and the field workforce that builds the OSP network.

But other personas don’t care about seeing the detailed cable route. They just want to see a point-to-point topological link to represent physical connections between the ports on adjacent devices. This helps them to quickly understand the network or circuit / service view. They may also like to see an alarm overlay on the topology to quickly determine which parts of the network aren’t performing as expected. For these personas, seeing all the geo-detail just acts as visual noise that they need to subconsciously filter out to understand the topology view.

These personas also tend to want topological views of the network, not just the physical but the logical and virtual network / service overlays too.

In most cases that I can think of, the physical / OSP inventory tools show the physical devices (ports even) that the OSP network connects into. Their main focus is on the cables, joints, pits, pipes, catenaries, poles, lead-ins, patch-panels, patch-leads, splitters, etc. But showing the termination of cables onto active equipment (Inside Plant or ISP) is an important linking key between the physical and logical views.

The physical port (on the physical device) becomes the key demarcation between physical and logical worlds. The physical port connects physical cables / leads, but it also acts as the anchor point from which to create logical ports to which logical connections are made. As a result, the physical device and port tend to be shown in both physical (geo) and logical inventory tools. They also tend to be shown in both physical and logical network topology views.

In the case of the original OSS/BSS I worked on, it had separate visualisation tools for geo, network and circuit/service, but all underpinned by a common data model.

What’s the best way? Different personas will have different perspectives of course. I prefer for physical and logical inventories to be integrated out of the box (to allow simple cross-ref visually and in queries)…. but I also prefer for them to have different views (eg geo, topology, network, circuit/service) to suit different situations.

I also find it helpful if each of those views allow the ability to drill down deeper into specific sections of the graph if necessary. I’d prefer not to have all of those different views overlaid onto a geo visualisation. Too much visual clutter IMHO, but others may love it that way.

Oh, and having separate LNI (Logical Network Inventory) and PNI (Physical Network Inventory) can be a tricky thing to reconcile. The LNI will almost always have programmatic interfaces (APIs) to collect data from, but will generally have to amalgamate many different sources. Meanwhile, the PNI consists of mostly passive equipment and therefore has no API to collect latest info from. I tend to use strategies at the above-mentioned demarcation point (ie physical ports) to help establish linking keys between LNI and PNI.

BTW. There’s one aspect of the question, “How often do you see physical plant mapping in a separate system from network inventory” that I haven’t fully answered. I’ll cover the question of asset management vs inventory management vs CMDB (Configuration Management Database) in more detail in an upcoming post. [Ed. See link here] Read the Passionate About OSS Blog for more or Subscribe to the Passionate About OSS Blog by Email

2 thoughts on “Various forms of OSS Inventory

  1. Well put Ryan. In my experience, it is best to divide network inventory systems based on processes (similar to your concept of personas) they would support. Simply put, any inventory system would support three different processes.
    1. Service Fulfillment (including service and resource feasibility)
    2. Service Assurance and
    3. Network plan and build
    Each of these processes have different SLAs/KPIs which, in my opinion, is not practical to achieve from one monolith inventory system. May be this is the reason why most of the fulfillment and service assurance systems have their own captive LNI and NI DB. This has resulted in some overlaps (also due to demarcation point in your post). So a service and resource inventory is LNI focused with aspects of PNI and plan and build focused inventory is PNI heavy with some aspects of LNI (e.g. circuits running on PNI).

    Since Plan&Build process required geo-spatial info, these systems primarily support geo-spatial data model. This is not necessarily true for LNI (supporting FF). But yes, I have seen almost all LNI ad PNI systems come with geo-spatial capability

  2. Hi Roopinder

    Great summary! Thanks very much for sharing.
    You’ve done a great service adding more detailed descriptions of roles / personas! We might want to add the asset management persona to your list too as it has some interesting overlaps with inventory (I’ll add a post on that one shortly).
    I’m also really interested to see whether another style of inventory evolves; one that wraps in elements of config management, assurance and orchestration to be a more complete digital twin. It would allow us to do more chaos monkey resilience testing (and AI seeding) scenarios on prod-replica environments. I’ve seen a few subtle hints of this trend in some products, but not a major shift yet.

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