When SOAs and Telcos Collide

IMS, Meet SOA.

Voice, audio, video and mobile technologies are flinging open the floodgates for vendors who specialize in providing software to support service-oriented architectures .

Software giants like Oracle, IBM and BEA Systems are marketing middleware for the telecommunications industry that enables SOAs, which shuttle Web services and integrate myriad applications.

The strategies are unfurling as telcos and service providers try to cut costs by integrating gear from different vendors under one common platform, using such protocols as the IP-based Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS).

IMS , as it’s called for short, combines communications equipment with different DNA to make them work as one platform.

This is a major development at a time when cable providers are offering IP-based phone services and phone operators are beginning to offer computer and data services, said Stephen Mello, a go-to-market strategy director in IBM’s WebSphere group.

“Traditionally, this industry has existed with a vertical structure,” Mello said. “They’ve had the mobile, they’ve had the voice and they’ve had the data, but they really haven’t been converged.”

Now, the vertical is flattening out along a horizon of services, as telcos work toward that Holy Grail-like quadruple play of voice, video, data and mobile services.

Oracle, BEA Systems and IBM are offering software portfolios tailored to serve as the software foundations for IMS and Session Initiation Protocol activities for telcos.

Products and Theories of Success

IBM, BEA and Oracle compete fiercely for share in the telco-oriented middleware market.

Oracle made the latest dash to provide telcos operational systems support last month with its Service Delivery Platform (SDP).

SDP is a distributed computing software suite to help software and services conduct business transactions and improve communications.

Thomas Kurian, senior vice president of server development at Oracle, said the competition caused by convergence is forcing telco carriers and service providers to scramble to offer VoIP , virtual PBX and conferencing, data services and mobile content delivery.

With the emergence of VoIP and faster IP, telecom carriers want to converge on a common IP-based network to offer all services, Kurian reasoned during a conference call with analysts and press.

SDP, he said, helps customers create a platform for new services over a converged IP-based network, while allowing carriers to leverage existing technology investments.

Kurian said SDP is enabling SOA for telecom carriers.

“The vision of SOA is that you build apps as services and enable access to them from a large number of clients,” Kurian said. “So SDP is the platform to create and deliver apps or services within the carrier’s or network operator’s environment.”

While acknowledging that rivals have middleware solutions for the telco market, Kurian said Oracle has a leg up because it offers both infrastructure and applications on one platform, if customers choose to go that route.

Of course, neither IBM’s nor BEA’s executives see it that way. Nor are they ready to cede the lucrative middleware market for telcos to Oracle or one another.

BEA ignited its telco engines last year when it unveiled the WebLogic Communications Platform months after shrouding it in mystery under the name Project Da Vinci.

The platform consists of two main pieces of software: the WebLogic SIP Server to support SIP services and the WebLogic Network Gatekeeper, a sort of “traffic cop” that lets carriers enforce user access policies for the network.

The products, currently in version 2.1, power services such as e-mail, video, voice, chat or gaming for customers all over the world, said Ken Lee, director of product marketing for BEA’s WebLogic Communications Platform.

In one customer scenario, Lee said British wireless operator O2 uses Network Gatekeeper as a partner management interface to allow 15,000 content partners to self-administer and manage applications in the O2 network.

IBM, meanwhile, recently launched WebSphere Application Server 6.1, which offers SIP support.

Kevin Twardus, manager of industry architecture and standards for IBM’s communications group, said IBM’s approach is to put an architecture in place to give telcos and service providers a way to combine legacy and new architectures into one complete SOA.

Within that framework, he said, IBM covers SIP, Parlay-X, presence, workflow, orchestration, choreography, authorization and authentication.

“The thing that telcos universally love about SOA is that it affords them the best opportunity to link the business and technical aspects of their business in such a way that they haven’t been able to do before,” Twardus said.

With all of the solid technology out there from credible vendors, who wins?

Current Analysis analyst Shawn Willett said carriers are going to pick the one they feel will best help them move to a standards-based platform based on pre-built products that open the door to interoperability and save development time.

“Whether that is J2EE, .Net or “SOA,” it doesn’t matter,” Willett said of telco providers’ transition from proprietary hardware and software. “They want to move to all of these. So the moves by BEA, IBM and Oracle are a reaction to their plans.

“However, these new multimedia applications are not guaranteed,” Willett cautioned. “There is going to be a period of pilots and some experimentation to get the right mix of services that customers will buy. I would imagine these guys would want vendors that would help them share the risk.”

Next page: The Market

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The Market

But what about the market value of SOA- and Web services-oriented telco gear?

Judging from the figures thrown around in a report from research outlet OSS Observer, it runs into the millions of dollars.

The closest segment OSS Observer identifies is what it calls the component integration software market, which includes software that communications service providers use to integrate and manage data exchanged between applications.

BEA leads this space with 28 percent of this $650 million telco market, with IBM at 14 percent and Oracle at 5 percent, respectively, the research said.

But Forrester Research analyst Larry Velez isn’t so sure how the promise of SOA middleware for telcos will shake out.

“There is little knowledge of what this means for people to forecast spending on this,” Velez said. “Every telco will spend money on an SDP, and I’m leaning in the direction that this will be done on a shared revenue transactional model with different stages of price caps.”

“I can’t see telcos spending millions on this without knowing if selling telecom Web services is going to be a good business model or not. This is why it is extremely important for SDPs to have off-the-shelf applications that could be sold right away to ascertain if this model will work or not.”

It’s a tricky proposition that puts the onus on the technology providers.

IBM’s Twardus said telco customers are a lot more savvy about the platforms than they were a few years ago.

“They’re [customers] very excited about the fact that Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and BEA are making these investments in integration technology,” Twardus said.

“They’re a little more enlightened about what the technology means and they’re being very selective about where they want to apply it.”

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