Network operators struggling to meet surging business
demand for enhanced services will soon be able to use a new class of server-based tools to
streamline the provisioning of niche-specific applications.
Paralleling the growth of hosted applications service
providers (ASPs) supplying refined IP (Internet-protocol) and other packet services, a new
class of carrier-oriented vendors is coming up with flexible methods to exploit the
"big iron" from major manufacturers of ATM (asynchronous-transfer-mode)
switches, network-class routers, servers and other hardware.
Approaches vary widely, but these new tools typically
combine software based on Sun Microsystems' Java language with the latest microprocessing
technology advances to enhance network operators' ability to generate revenues from ASPs
and their customers.
For example, Dialogic Corp., which supplies devices that
link computer and telephony applications, has teamed with Hewlett-Packard Co. to develop
HP NetServer platforms that will use Dialogic's single-board IP voice and fax development
environment to support such services as interactive voice response (IVR), unified
messaging and voice mail from the same hardware infrastructure.
By placing open-systems devices such as those Dialogic
supplies into the telco's central office or the cable plant's headend, service providers
can support the delivery of many types of applications. They include virtual call centers
and unified messaging, escaping the slow-moving, switch-based environment for developing
and delivering enhanced applications.
"With use of standardized interfaces like MGCP
(multimedia gateway control protocol) and the H.323 codecs, you put in place an
architecture that many players can develop applications for," said James Machi,
director of marketing for IP telephony at Dialogic.
The emergence of the Compact PCI (peripheral component
interconnect) platform is one major factor enabling vendors to equip network devices to
perform multiple functions on command from remote locations, Machi noted.
CPCI -- which links multiple processors together in a space
small enough to squeeze modular-application platforms into central offices -- makes it
possible to scale previously developed integrated applications from the private-networking
domain to meet carriers' requirements.
Dialogic spent most of the past year developing the means
to support linking the H.323 IP-telephony signaling environment with the CTI
(computer-telecommunications integration) applications environment to support third-party
call control in what amounts to CTI-enhanced virtual Centrex services.
"These were formerly completely separate worlds, but
now, using an enhanced gatekeeper, you can talk simultaneously into the IP telephony
networking world and back into the PBX domain," Machi said.
This ability to make the IP-telephony environment look like
the PBX to any specific application greatly simplifies the extension of legacy application
products like screen-based dialing or specialized "screen pops" from the CTI
premises domain into the hosted applications world.
Now Dialogic is working with other suppliers to provide
gatekeepers large enough to accommodate end-user bases beyond the 50 to 100 that
Dialogic's gatekeeper is designed to handle.
Also simplifying the provisioning of multiple-niche
services by service providers is a new, privately held company, Aplion Networks.
Piscataway, N.J.-based Aplion will introduce a system that
links software residing on servers at service provider locations with intelligent agents
and multipurpose processors in modules both at the network edge and on customers'
premises. The idea is to enable point-and-click provisioning of virtually any type of
enhanced service over any kind of access facility, said John Holobinko, a cable-vendor
veteran who is now Aplion's CEO.
Aplion's "Active Service" architecture allows
service providers to remotely set bandwidth, quality of service and other parameters to
fit specific applications tailored for customers, Holobinko said.
The system supports provisioning of virtual private
networks, IP voice-enhanced services and hosted applications of every description, all on
the same hardware platform, Holobinko said.
"With the Active Services architecture, we build a
service with object-oriented programming, using service objects as very small building
blocks to provide the quality-of-service, usage measurement and instruction sets that
define the service," Holobinko said. "We allow you to optimize the network to
provide the key parameters of a specific service, whether it's a high-priority application
with voice or something that is less latency- or jitter-sensitive."
These elements are apportioned to the application stream by
Aplion's small rack-mounted hardware module at the network edge. Another box employing the
company's intelligent agent software sits at the customer premises.
This model is "agnostic" in terms of the
protocols running on the access network, Holobinko said. For example, if ATM is used in
the distribution system, its function becomes strictly transmission. All the functions
associated with network provisioning of the application are added without requiring
component devices to "look inside" the packet payloads.
The unit can perform the gateway function for IP telephony
and also import SS7 (Signaling System 7) call set-up and feature provisioning from the
circuit world to the IP voice environment, said Hobolinko. It works with voice-over-ATM as
well as standard switched-circuit voice, he added.
Java, used in the Aplion system, has become a major force
in easing cross-platform compatibility for applications developers.
Dynamicsoft Inc. co-founder and CEO Dennis Specht said his
company, one of the early proponents of Java in the IP-telephony arena, has amply
demonstrated the advantages of working in that language rather than in the traditional C
and C++ environments.
"Java really gave us a productivity boost with a safe
and secure environment that led to less coding errors," Specht said.
Specht's firm is offering a five-module array of software
frameworks that hardware vendors can add to their platforms. This makes it easier for
carriers to tap into the IP-voice and applications world -- and adapt to the rapid changes
there -- than if they were running software that was "burned into" their server
boards, Specht said.
For example, the framework uses Java interfaces to connect
into LDAP (lightweight-directory-access protocol) servers, as well as Java on the client
side, to talk to the LDAP server and accomplish administrative tasks.
"Our gateway module is a software-based, Java-based
gateway module that enables both voice and fax over IP," Specht said. "Our
management tools are Java and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) based. Once you
have a variety of applications in this space, you need to manage them in a distributed
environment and to manage across the globe from a single console, and Java enables that to
happen very rapidly."