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February 2000


Windows NT Makes Some Carrier- Grade Noise


Nearly a year ago, Unisys PulsePoint Communications announced that GTE had standardized Unisys PulsePoint's Enhanced Application Platform (EAP) and was poised to deploy it throughout their network. This event marked the acceptance of Windows NT Enterprise Server into the public network, and dismayed naysayers throughout the industry.

The Windows NT-based EAP brings a standard application and development platform to the telecommunications industry that benefits from the economies of scale and wide range of peripherals, suppliers, applications, developers, and resources found in the PC industry. For the first time, telecommunications enhanced service providers will enjoy the synergies of off-the-shelf hardware and software enabled by an open, standards-based environment. No longer locked into rigid, proprietary architectures, they can start to enjoy the cycle of innovation that has driven revenue growth for so many players in the PC industry.

Unisys PulsePoint claims that by fixing the underlying architectural fundamentals, they are able to greatly shorten time to market for new services, in regard to development and testing of new applications as well as their integration with back-office systems. Unisys PulsePoint calls this "bringing PC economies to the telecommunications industry." Compelling phraseology indeed, but such advantages are only relevant if the platform can stand up to the telecommunications industry's demands for fault tolerance, high availability, and scalability.

In order to achieve carrier-class performance, Unisys PulsePoint has worked closely with Microsoft to implement Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS), which is part of Windows NT Server Enterprise Edition. The implementation not only provides the robustness required by public network operators, but does so without the usual high cost of redundant hot standby equipment. By connecting a group of servers, clustering technology enhances data availability, server manageability, and performance. In addition to the work done by Unisys PulsePoint and by Microsoft, the MSCS software incorporates algorithms and expertise provided by other core industry partners in the MSCS initiative, including Compaq Computer Corporation, Digital Equipment Corporation (part of Compaq), Hewlett-Packard Company, IBM Corporation, Intel Corporation, NCR Corporation, and Tandem Computers, Inc. (also part of Compaq).

The EAP runs on a high-density IP backbone, and the servers in the EAP are arranged as fail-over pairs — each server with its own RAID disk array. Using MSCS, each server in a fail-over pair monitors the health of its partner, and takes over its partner’s IP address and RAID disks in the event of a problem, automatically restoring user access to data and services. The clustering approach, in conjunction with techniques like N+1 power supply configurations, hot-swappable components, and redundant network interface cards, keeps service available and enables online serviceability for a rapid return to full capacity following the failure of individual applications, servers, or components.

In addition, Unisys PulsePoint offers a Network Equipment-Building System (NEBS)-compliant EAP for central office deployments. The NEBS specification, developed by Telcordia, defines a set of rigid requirements for reliability and serviceability. For example, a system must be able to self-extinguish in case of fire, survive a direct lightning hit of 8,000 volts, and keep functioning after a 7.0 Richter-scale earthquake.

Fault tolerance is only part of delivering on the public network’s requirement for just a few minutes of downtime per year. High availability means keeping even scheduled downtime for maintenance and upgrades to an absolute minimum. Unisys Pulse-Point’s implementation of MSCS allows service providers to perform software maintenance and load upgrades on the EAP while the system is online serving customers. During an upload, fail-over partners alternate in taking over the service load while software is installing on the other partner. Software loads can even be done remotely over the network without dropping customers.

By distributing media, application, and management servers over an IP backplane, the EAP allows service providers to scale their deployment very economically based on customer usage patterns, adding servers for media or applications independently as required. The more that is added, the greater the distribution of processing power for scaling upwards without interruption in service or support. This permits deployment in a small, single-cabinet solution that scales from 96 to 240 ports for CLECs, entrepreneurial ISPs, or wireless networks. Deployment may also be in multiple cabinets supporting as many as 1,920 ports for traditional incumbent networks with large numbers of subscribers, or centrally deployed IP telephony networks.

A programmable platform is a key requirement for service providers focused on time-to-market and competitive advantage. Combining Microsoft Visual Studio and a tool they developed themselves, called RACE, Unisys PulsePoint has created a powerful service creation environment that provides a threefold increase in programmer productivity for new service logic. Developers can simulate, create, and test applications in a desktop NT environment. Their work compiles to C++ code, and can be uploaded directly onto an active EAP to be put into market test or active service without the months of regression testing traditionally required. Different interfaces or feature bundles can be presented to the market without high hurdles to break even on unique development investments.

Finally, by implementing Microsoft’s Component Object Model (COM) throughout, Unisys PulsePoint enables service providers to integrate back-office applications by accessing a rich set of services in Windows using a wide range of familiar tools. These services are exposed in a unified way through the component object model, lowering integration costs and improving deployment flexibility with back-office software solutions from many different vendors.

The vast and rapidly growing support for Windows NT in the developer and supplier communities means better access to applications and technology. Combining that with the EAP’s support for carrier-grade requirements makes Windows NT Server the ideal platform for developing and deploying enhanced services solutions for the highly competitive telecommunications market. Windows NT provides a highly flexible, robust, and scalable deployment environment for services in the public network. Its strengths and support continue to increase year after year. Service providers can select it with the confidence that an open, standards-based enhanced application platform based on Windows NT will continue to evolve and take advantage of technology curves in hardware and software to bring PC economies to the telecommunications industry.

Mark Ozur is president of Unisys PulsePoint Communications, a member of the Unisys WorldWide Communications group and developer of next generation messaging solutions for progressive and competitive telecommunication service providers. The PulsePoint Enhan-ced Application Platform and PulsePoint Messaging Applications are highly scalable, carrier-class, standards-based solutions built on Microsoft Windows NT Server. For more information, visit the company’s Web sites at www.plpt.com or www.unisys.com.

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