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March 2010 | Volume 2/Number 2
Feature Story

Telecom Suppliers Embrace Cloud, Virtualization Technology to Enable Service Creation

By Paula Bernier (News - Alert)

As telephone companies and other facilities-based service providers search for ways to avoid commoditization and bring to market new revenue-generating applications, some of their equipment suppliers are coming out with new solutions that leverage technologies like cloud computing, software as a service and virtualization.

In its latest step to play matchmaker between its service provider customers and the developer community, Alcatel-Lucent (News - Alert) recently revealed cloud-based efforts to open carrier APIs to application folks, as well as to outfit these software types with tools to test and distribute their wares.

The vendor back in December unveiled a trio of new offers – the Application Exposure Suite, the Open API Service and Transformation Service – aimed at helping network operators and developers more easily enable and create new applications that are manageable, reliable, scalable and secure. Laura Merling, vice president of Alcatel-Lucent’s developer strategy, told NGN magazine in mid-February that now the company is offering
cloud-based solutions that takes those efforts to the next level by not only exposing APIs, but also providing an end-to-end ecosystem through which developers can build, test, manage
and distribute their applications.

That includes developer tools, available through the cloud, that provide an abstraction layer to enable applications to run on any device; support for debugging; and more. It also includes a “sandbox in the sky” that allows developers to test their applications at scale. A special dashboard, meanwhile, allows developers to track traffic on their applications, look at what other developers are charging for their apps, and more. The management piece Merling mentions has to do with exposing APIs; she says it enables carriers to expose APIs securely, and in a rate limiting way so they don’t bring down the network. From a distribution standpoint, Alcatel-Lucent offers a platform on which developers can load applications, and those applications can be tested as well as made available to interested parties.

“So it works both ways, it’s a push and a pull,” says Merling.

The ecosystem is paid for by those carriers that wish to expose their APIs, says Merling. She notes that’s an important change from the current model in which developers typically have to prepay something like $8,000 to $10,000 a month for access to particular network resources, like SMS. This way, she says, it’s a pure revenue share model in which only the service provider assumes risk, but in which the service provider also has a lot to gain.

She adds that in this model developers also get a lot of added value given that they are offered bundles of APIs for specific verticals.

The first version of this SaaS (News - Alert)-based ecosystem will be Alcatel-Lucent branded, says Merling. Longer term, she says, the goal is to give service providers the dashboard to offer as part of their developer programs. The sandbox
and dashboard are available now.

Merling adds that while the developer community is clearly the target of its new cloud-based ecosystem initiative, it would also make sense for over-the-top service providers as well as enterprise network operators to get in on the action. For example, she says, Netflix might want to take advantage of a carrier’s API to ensure QoS for a video-on-demand service. Conversely, she says, enterprise network operators might want to open their networks with APIs to enable new capabilities on their networks. In fact, she says, enterprises such as Best Buy, the BBC and Tesco are already opening their networks in efforts to drive customer engagement and otherwise meet their business objectives.

While Alcatel-Lucent is leveraging cloud computing to help service providers make the best use of their network assets and find a common ground with the developer community, Ciena talks about both the cloud as well as another technology made popular in data center and enterprise circles: virtualization.

“When we talk to our carrier customers, clearly these folks are really on the page of IT and cloud services as a forward kind of focal point of revenue creation and margin protection,” says Ciena’s Chris Janz, senior director of portfolio management.

That involves bringing IT together with network elements, he says. It also entails transforming the network to an end revenue service delivery vehicle to being more in the middle of a supply chain – as more of a cost center than a direct revenue source, he adds. Janz says virtualization is a term that could be used to describe what needs to happen to enable all that. Rather than virtualization in terms of data center servers, he explains, the virtualization here has to do with migrating from a world with multiple networks each with their own operating systems, a lack of standardized interfaces and long new service development cycles, to a world with more converged, flexible networks that offer stable APIs written in languages developers want.

To enable that transition Ciena talks about what it calls the Converged Optical Ethernet, a foundation layer distinct from Layer 3 that Janz says includes core and metro edge transport, mesh, packetization capabilities and carrier
Ethernet access. This foundation network can offer various bandwidth options, including QoS controls. Additionally, Janz talks about how Ciena offers a next-generation NMS of sorts that offers northbound service-oriented provisioning capabilities and southbound standards- based machine-based interfaces.

Additionally, next month Ciena will unveil a new 4200 family feature called enterprise services optimization, which allows fluid bandwidth to be brought to applications at the edge, allowing on-demand provisioning to be coupled with various applications or flows.

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