|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.
MAKING THE CARRIER GRADE
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 partners
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 networks
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-Points 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 Microsofts 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
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
EAPs 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 companys Web sites at www.plpt.com