Iona Tuning ESBs for Telco Convergence

ESBs are helping telcos grapple with their latest core mania - convergence. At telcos these days it's is all about getting data, services, provisioning, voice, video systems to work better with one another. IDN looks at how Iona Technologies mixing their Artix extensible Enterprise Service Bus with legacy-savvy reliability and quality-of-service expertise to change how telcos compute.

Tags: Telco, ESB, Support, CORBA, Artix, Customer, Network,

IDN looks at how Iona Technologies mixing their Artix extensible Enterprise Service Bus with legacy-savvy reliability and quality-of-service expertise to change how telcos compute.

For now, Iona's influence is mainly offshore, with projects underway with Marconi, O2, 3 Italy, and even China's Beijing Mobile. But, there are indications that U.S. carriers will soon join the ESB parade, as telco providers see that improving their convergence capability will increase their bottom lines.

IDN speaks with Iona's Hakim Dhilla, senior product marketing manager for Iona's Artix.extensible ESB Dhilla brings more than 20 years of telco experience to Iona's efforts to bring ESBs/SOA to the telecom sector.

An IDN Interview with
Hakim Dhilla, Artix product manager - telcom
Iona Technologies Inc.

IDN: Where does Iona see opportunity for ESBs and SOA in the telco sector?
Dhilla: Well, in some ways we're already there, through CORBA. And to some extent that is part of our problem at Iona. In a funny way, we suffer from that prior success, so they think of Iona as a CORBA company, but the big trends is toward SOA and so we are moving there.

IDN: Why do you see these new opportunities in telco?
Dhilla: To understand the new opportunities it would help to understand a bit about the behind-the-scene architectures at a telco. If you look at typical support and maintenance of a telco company it comes in three (3) layers.

At the bottom is the network-facing side. This is where the network management systems talk to the service provisioning and maintenance and the Operational Support System (OSS), which are key to activating a service for a customer. These are connected through standard CORBA, and where Iona's Orbix plays a big role in linking between the network management systems and OSS.
But, looking to the future, these CORBA-based tie-ins will begin to be replaced. IP has become the choice protocol, and with that choice, telcos now are getting more aggressive about tying together all sorts of systems - for operations, networks, applications, content, etc. So, we're just at the start in a wave of telco convergence, for the back office systems as well as for systems that touch the customer - billing, personalization, content, and so on.

IDN: Wow, in that definition, convergence sounds like an any-to-any architecture? Is that true?
Dhilla: We are definitely seeing convergence happening in many ways. At the network layer we have Ethernet over optical. Also, we have convergence of services, such as wired VoIP and wireless voice so that voice can be accessed over any device. - fixed or mobile. And, then with number portability and 'follow-me' services there are other types of content and billing convergences.
IDN: Where is all this leading? Is there a telco plan you feel SOA/ESBs can tap into?
Dhilla: Yes, we think there is. Most carriers today have a strategic vision for a "Triple play" of convergence - where they give the customer 1 single bill for voice, data and Internet. The customer also wants to move from one phone device to another seamlessly, and we're just at the beginning of adding video to the mix. So, the primary driver for the telco is this: 'How do I bundle all these services in a cost-effective and high-performance way, so I can keep my customer happy?' Today, the ability to support these kind of customer needs, will determine whether the telco keeps the customer at all.

IDN: How is Iona addressing that?
Dhilla: As telcos begin to move away from pure CORBA to a more SOA-tyle architecture, Iona is supporitng that move through our microkernal Adapting Runtime Technology (ART). This brings visibility and manageability, such as quality of service guarantees, to SOA web services in bothg an ESB and CORBA approach. [ART is the core micro-kernal architecture in both Iona's Artix pluggable ESB, as well as its traditional CORBA-based Orbix.]

IDN: How specifically, do you see your telecom work with Artix ESB pushing the envelop for SOA?
Dhilla: Artix is an extensible ESB because it can be configured to support any protocol, transport, messaging and format via a WSDL contract - logical and physical parts. The two are parts are separated to avoid changing the business logic when the underlying physical network changes. And because of Iona's CORBA heritage, we can leverage some of our experience with transaction management, reliability, QoS [Quality of Service] and real-time support capability - all of which we have a long experience with thanks to our CORBA expertise.

IDN: And does Iona envision the "cloud" for telcos comprising a central ESB integration platform that links the network systems and IT systems together?
Dhilla: We take a different approach. Artix is a smart end-point application. Artix differs from the traditional centralized middleware because it says you don't need a centralized platform. And because Artix is a plug-in architecture at the end point, the footprint of the Artix code is very small and can embedded in a variety of web or legacy applications. In our approach it is the Artix components, and not the whole middleware stack, that talk to each other - and its done by exposing the right interface.

IDN: Are Java and .NET and ESB now big topics in the back office of the telco? They never used to be?
Dhilla: That's one of the things that is happening. Different specs have come out of standards groups] to better link the carrier network side and the IT side. The first one is called Parlay/OSA (Open Service Access), leveraged all the CORBA work - very baked standard for telecom. They based the spec on CORBA and have CORBA bindings, targeted at the telecom appdev, who was savvy about telecom apps. Now, they are finding the parlay group sees the IT group is also demanding a spec to let them tie their apps to the telecom side. So, now Parley/X where x is for web services, based on that and SOA architecture.

IDN: So, standards are actually helping being Java and .NET more to the forefront for telcos?
Dhilla: Yes defiantly, and XML and many other web services-related standards, such as WSDL.

IDN: And Iona is encouraging this trend, I would assume?
Dhilla: We are working with support Parley OSA, and supporting Parlay/X, so that is becomes easier for IT appdev who are not telecom savvy to dev telecom apps. They have done that by parlaying the SOA attributes of a loosely coupled app so there are less number of flows that an IT dev needs to know about.

IDN: Are there are examples of where carrier networks and IT are coming together?
Dhilla: MTOSI is another example. MTOSI, which stands for Multi-technology operations support interface, is primarily for the IT side, but it points to the trend for SOA in telcos. MTOSI is based on SOAP and web services, and it provides XML capability. And, MTOSI provides a WSDL [interface] as opposed to IDL that CORBA uses. Parley/X uses WSDL as well, while Parley/OSA uses CORBA bindings.

IDN: How would you describe Iona's support for these technologies?
Dhilla: We just announced Artix support for MTOSI and Parley.

IDN: So, in Iona's view, telcos don't only need real-time SOA support. They also need better visibility into how their systems are performing?
Dhilla: Absolutely, they need to be able to view… Here is an example, if Boeing is a big customer of a telco and is spending millions of dollars, that telco needs to know if there is a particular problem in the network. And, even if there is a problem, they have to know how it is affecting Boeing, versus just other customers.

IDN: That kind of customer-centric visibility would be useful to many industries, not just telco, wouldn't it?
Dhilla: Yes, we think it would as well. Today, we have announced a telecom version of this [capability] through Orbix and enhanced SOA and ESB technologies. In the early stages, telcos will look at these solutions as useful point-solution technologies for rolling up certain services. But as these technologies are maturing, we believe CEOs will need to look at over-arching SOA and ESB architectures that will give them a new framework for not just rolling up services, but also for getting better reuse and cutting costs and time for deployments.