Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java-based thin-client
networking strategy looms as an ever greater force to be reckoned with in the wake of
recent gains in the telecommunications and home-services arenas.
The company last week won broad support from other
suppliers for its latest innovations, including a new generation of servers for
telecommunications applications. These are meant to free telco switches from the
limitations of proprietary service-provisioning systems.
At the same time, Sun was preparing to roll out new
applications of its Java programming language in the consumer market, with widespread
support from a number of manufacturing entities.
"Our strategy is simple," Sun chief operating
officer Ed Zander said. "We believe that the technology is here to deliver
'Webtone' from any device to allow the user to gain access to information and
services over any network."
Webtone is the company's term for combining
traditional telephone networking with the power of IP (Internet-protocol) functionality,
using Java-based applications as the glue that ties everything together.
"There are 22 microprocessors in the home today, and
all of them will have access to the network," Zander said.
Throwing their weight behind various aspects of the Sun
strategy on the telecommunications side were Lucent Technologies, IBM Corp., Bell
Communications Research (Bellcore), Alcatel Alsthom, Ericsson Inc. and a number of smaller
players in specialized IP applications, such as Natural MicroSystems, Inktomi Corp. and
Portal Software Inc.
And in the consumer space, a private demonstration of
Sun's new "Jini" software in conjunction with Cisco Systems Inc., at the
recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, hinted at alliances to be revealed at a Sun
conference later this month in San Francisco.
"The full value of network communications will only be
realized if each person can be seamlessly connected to anyone else," said Jay Carter,
president of the consumer-business unit at Lucent. "We need a software platform that
supports common interconnection across all networks."
Where consumer applications are concerned, the new Jini
strategy is aimed at configuring appliances of all descriptions to interact with networks
and applications, without requiring the consumer to set up the connections, said Keith
Fox, vice president of for worldwide corporate marketing at Cisco.
So far, Java has been most visible in the enterprise
domain, where disparate networks and applications developed over time in different places
can be integrated through new software and on the Internet. There, Java
"applets" are ubiquitously used as the means of allowing new graphic elements to
operate on all platforms.
Sun's latest moves build on these successes, with the
intention of seeding end-user devices with Java-based software so that servers can readily
be used to deliver whatever applications the market wants, Zander said.
"We're the lumberyard for the Internet," he
One piece of this effort revolves around the "Java in
Advanced Intelligent Networks" (JAIN) initiative. This is a "JavaBean," or
an application-component-based means of blending Internet and IN technologies to achieve
convergence between traditional voice networks and IP-voice systems.
IBM and Bellcore said they would work with Sun to extend
the JAIN initiative into the new realm of IN applications -- service creation, where
developers will be able to add features to telecommunications services without being bound
by the time-consuming restrictions of switch-based, proprietary IN systems.
JAIN, unlike some IP-based IN systems, retains the idea of
working from the traditional IN-architecture components known as "SIBBs"
(service-independent building blocks), which are the object-based units of feature
development in IN.
"Java is an object-based language, so JAIN makes an
excellent tool for working within the IN architecture," said Paul Tempest-Mitchell,
manager of systems engineering for Sun.
"What we came to realize, and what our customers
realize, is that because their services are IP-based, we could migrate away from the
switch-based SCP [service-control-point] model and run the service on Web devices, whether
it's the Web server, a PBX [private-branch exchange] or handsets,"
Tempest-Mitchell said. "This opens development up to virtually anyone with a PC
Switched-based carriers can tap into IN residing on those
switches, both to deliver instructions through the IP side of the network, once the
messages are converted to IP, as well as to give customer connections IN support over the
circuit-switched network, officials said. The initiative also has the previously announced
support of Ericsson and ADC Telecommunications Inc., and it will soon add new partners,
On the hardware side, the Lucent-Sun alliance, with joint
marketing of combined switch and server solutions, is driven by market demand for
flexible, quick responses to new service opportunities, said Gagan Bhutani, a marketing
manager in Lucent's service-provider business unit.
"Service providers are asking for VPNs [virtual
private networks], voice over IP, unified messaging and remote outsourcing capabilities
that require us to combine our skills," Bhutani said.
"All that's needed is that a real-time [operating
system] and a Web browser embedded in the device, and the Jini technology will configure
the device, no matter what the OS and browser is, to work over the network, no matter what
type of network is used," Fox said.
The new software enables a new class of devices -- what
Cisco calls "Webslates" -- Fox added. These are computerized screen-based
components that can be attached to any appliance to provide a touch-screen mode of sending
commands and receiving information over the network, he explained.