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NRENs: The Need for Agility

5 June 2023
Peter van Hartingsveld

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For a variety of reasons, the quest for agility is playing an increasingly important role in operational effectiveness for NRENs.  The function of Network Inventory Management is critical to delivering agile services across complex, multi-site networks. 

NRENs: The need for agility

National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), specialist providers of internet and connectivity facilities, often face demanding needs with strict obligations to deliver them. They also experience pressure to support innovation. Given that NREN customers and users have diverse requirements that often involve dedicated or even unique services, it should come as no surprise that the ability to operate in an agile way is a key aspect of successful NREN operations.

What is Agility?

But what is this “agility”? Specifically, what is needed?  In this case, we can think of it as the NREN’s ability to rapidly assemble connectivity resources to support and enable collaborative research projects, which are often time limited. This requires an understanding of what network assets are available, so they can be orchestrated when required, for as long as is required. 

And there’s another wrinkle. NRENs are also often early adopters of new solutions and technologies. They need to ensure that the introduction and management of these new technologies proceeds as smoothly as possible. Each, such as WDM/OTN, MPLS or SDN/SD-WAN, adds a new dimension to their operational landscape – and these introductions should not impact agility or add friction to processes. 

As NRENs seeks to become dynamic, elastic and nimble organisations, operational agility is essential. Network inventory management is a key function that helps them achieve that goal successfully. Let’s look at why that’s the case.

The answer to becoming agile

In broad terms, Network Inventory Management (NIM) is the key function that enables NRENs to bring clarity to their assets. It is enabled through an appropriate NIM platform, which provides a foundation for ensuring that investments in digital transformation and infrastructure deliver. It eliminates scattered data silos, and it unlocks the single, consolidated view of infrastructure and assets necessary to operate effectively and meet customer needs. The NIM platform is central to all operations, because it maintains the complete record of all network resources and assets.

That’s particularly important today, because NRENs must be focused on adopting an agile approach to operations because that is what will enable them to innovate, adapt their networks, deliver services more quickly, and become more proactive in how they manage their business, all while streamlining or reducing costs. As a result, NIM should be front of mind.

Why? Because an NREN can’t operate in an agile way without an understanding of the resources over which its business is conducted, ranging from physical assets to the transit infrastructure that carries traffic and beyond. Remember, NREN services are delivered across a complex chain of resources and the connections between them. Such services are composed of logical and virtual resources – which need to be clearly understood and correlated. Each service may require a different set of resources, or different services may be delivered across the same underlying infrastructure. How can they be delivered efficiently without a “complete picture”?

Only by understanding all the elements in these chains and correlating them with each other can NRENs manage, optimize, and evolve the performance of their infrastructure and the delivery of their services. Accurate Network Inventory Management delivers the “complete picture” NRENs need in order to operate in an agile way.

vc4 agility

Agility in action

With this in mind, let’s look at four more detailed ways NIM helps the NREN to become more agile:

Seamless service delivery
If an NREN wants to deliver a service optimally, it must have a comprehensive and instant understanding of how all the components deployed in the process of delivering that service, perform. Yet few NRENs possess this complete picture – which creates friction for service delivery. If the NREN has only a fragmented view of its assets, then its operational performance will be constrained. The Network Inventory Management platform delivers the insights that solve this problem, exposing the complete set of assets to the processes that provision and activate the service, removing friction, and accelerating service delivery.

Enabling and supporting technology innovation
Technology evolution is a constant characteristic of most NREN’s infrastructures. The key to handling the deployment of successive waves of technology is delivering a consolidated view of the network, assets, and the logical / physical relationships between them – end-to-end. Most legacy platforms are unable to support new technologies as they are introduced, which inhibits performance and agility. NIM based on the right platform makes doing so straightforward.

Overcoming the scattered data problem
If agility is the goal, then incomplete or inaccurate asset data are arguably the primary barriers to achieving it. All too often, operational data is siloed – scattered across different elements of the infrastructure and thus difficult if not impossible to collect and leverage effectively. This, of course, works against efficient and profitable operations, inhibiting agility, which, in turn, means preventing the delivery of the performance customers expect. Again, real time network inventory knowledge and insights provide the answer to how to remove the barrier by automating the data collection and normalization processes, allowing it to be fully leveraged. 

Supporting innovation
New services represent new opportunities, for instance, providing new kinds of differentiated services for research partners. When such opportunities present themselves, they must be provisioned, assured and delivered correctly and quickly, likely crossing over a series of interconnecting paths. A new project or relationship, for instance will require connectivity to be allocated, dynamically – and to be accounted for quickly and accurately. It’s the network inventory management solution that can identify usage and correlate it where required, for instance to payments, so that optimization steps can be flagged. 


For NRENs, having access to a consolidated repository of all the data associated with each network asset and service is a critical element of success. Awareness of asset location, performance, capability, usage, status, and more, is vital for optimal performance.  Information captured from the network inventory is the basis for improving both operations and customer experience. And improved performance in those areas is the foundation of long-term commercial success. 

Being able to access the right inventory platform is key and effective network asset management tools should be intrinsic components of the NREN’s operational management.  The importance of a single source of data for all operations and processes from planning to deployment to revenue cannot be overlooked. 

VC4-IMS, the leading Network Inventory Management solution brings clarity to the NRENs assets and provides a foundation for ensuring that agility is achieved. VC4-IMS eliminates scattered data silos, unlocking a single, consolidated view. This eliminates operational friction and boosts efficiency. 

VC4-IMS supports the full-service lifecycle, helping you to manage complex networks and plan investments more effectively for future evolution. It can help any NREN manage its infrastructure, connections, and customer relationships.