This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
The market demand for service availability has been growing quietly behind the scenes for more than a decade. In the past, service availability solutions typically were based on proprietary technologies, developed in-house for specific applications in telecommunications and other markets. However, recent activities in the marketplace indicate the growing adoption of open source solutions for service availability in next-generation networks.
Service availability implies a service is always available, regardless of hardware, software or user fault, and it is often taken for granted until downtime occurs. In today’s world, we increasingly rely on computer-based services for critical aspects of our day-to-day lives, such as smartphones for business and personal communication, online banking and investing, and the growing presence of Web-based applications and services. While there is enormous technical complexity to make these services work, much like basic electricity and plumbing, we assume they will be available when we need them. When these services become unavailable, there can be a direct impact to our lives. As one example, consider the recent outages to Google (News - Alert) Calendar and Twitter, affecting large numbers of users and generating negative press for the service providers.
Service Availability Forum is an organization working to develop technology standards to combat just such costly outages. SA Forum develops, publishes and promotes open specifications for service availability in carrier-grade and mission-critical systems. For nearly a decade, SA Forum has developed open specifications for service availability middleware, enabling systems to achieve five 9’s (99.999 percent) uptime, with reductions in both planned and unplanned downtime. These specifications have resulted in multiple implementations of SA Forum middleware, including a growing focus on open source.
There are now robust open source implementations of the SA Forum specifications, along with commercial support from vendors. One example is the OpenHPI project, which implements the SA Forum’s hardware platform interface. OpenHPI has an active development community and has been widely deployed through its inclusion in multiple Linux distributions. Another example is the Open Service Availability Framework, an implementation of the SA Forum’s application interface specification.
We at the SA Forum recently witnessed several events that reflect acceleration of OpenSAF in the market. The first was a public statement by a major equipment manufacturer on commercial adoption and deployment of SA Forum specifications when the OpenSAF Foundation announced Ericsson’s deployment of OpenSAF technology in carrier networks. The next month, SA Forum member company GoAhead Software (News - Alert) publicly announced its shift to an open source business model and commercial support of OpenSAF with the acquisition of the Aventellis Product Line from Emerson Network Power (News - Alert). These events are important, demonstrating that SA Forum implementations are ready for prime time, moving into real mission-critical deployments with commercial support available in the market.
We have all seen the benefits of standards-based software platforms, including enablement of an application development ecosystem, reduction of cost and risk, and acceleration of time to market. We have also seen these benefits with SA Forum specifications.
As a real example, a start-up company developing a carrier-grade system for telecom service providers needed to accelerate its time-to-market to have a field-deployable product within 12 months of the project start. The customer needed a high-performance, scalable solution, with a high degree of service availability to address system capacity requirements. One approach would have been for the customer to create its own middleware, but instead, it turned to Enea, a SA Forum member company. Enea provided standards-based middleware based on the SA Forum’s AIS and HPI (News - Alert) specifications, and another vendor supplied a standards-based hardware platform. The result was a smooth integration, resulting in a solution meeting or exceeding all schedule goals. The demo was ready in three months, and the selection of SA Forum-based middleware eliminated significant platform integration risks and reduced R&D integration costs by a factor of two.
With an understanding that standards-based solutions have benefit, the logical next question is – what are the benefits of open source implementations?
Over the years, we have seen a growing presence of open source technologies in very demanding environments. One obvious example is the Linux operating system, which has a very healthy development community and is being widely deployed across telecommunications, enterprise and other markets. A key factor in Linux’s growing adoption is the availability of commercial support from companies like Red Hat, Novell (News - Alert) and WindRiver. Another example is the success of Java, with some open source implementations available such as the GlassFish and JBoss application servers.
The use of open source, standards-based technology has broad appeal and offers multiple commercial benefits. With a dynamic marketplace, including acquisitions and technology shifts, standards-based solutions allow for increased interoperability and portability, while open source implementations help mitigate against vendor lock-in and single-supplier risks. Another benefit of using open source solutions is the ability of a company to directly influence and contribute to the technology – for a fraction of the cost to develop the full solution in-house, a company can invest modestly to contribute to open source technologies in areas that directly benefit its business goals. And finally, there is the simple fact that very robust open source technologies have been created with commercial, mission-critical product support offered by multiple vendors.
OpenSAF is one implementation of service availability middleware based on SA Forum specifications. OpenSAF was launched in January 2008, with a dedicated development community, multiple major releases and thousands of downloads. One of the keys to success of new open source solutions is to demonstrate adoption and deployment in real environments. This can be a challenge, since companies are often reluctant to publicize their technology choices. This is why the public announcement of Ericsson’s deployment of OpenSAF is such an important event, demonstrating that SA Forum specifications can solve their service availability requirements and showing confidence that OpenSAF is a robust implementation.
Another success factor in adoption of open source solutions is the presence of commercial support. The nature of open source allows customers to directly support themselves, and there will be a segment of customers that choose this route. For example, an estimated 50 percent of all Linux deployments are self-supported, while the other 50 percent go through commercial vendors like Red Hat. However, commercial support of open source solutions is a requirement for many customers and demonstrates the business viability of the technology. In the case of SA Forum middleware, the announcement of GoAhead Software as a provider of OpenSAF support is another important step in the growing deployments of SA Forum technologies.
With the momentum generated by these two major events in the service availability market, and the measurable benefits offered by open source and standards-based solutions, we are anticipating a continued uptick in deployments based on SA Forum specifications and a growing ecosystem of open source solutions. SA Forum has now developed a critical mass of specifications and continues to evolve these specifications based on feedback from middleware and application implementations from a broad range of markets. The organization is currently focusing on making its specifications even more accessible by providing educational resources on developing highly available applications using SA Forum-based middleware.
Alan Meyer is SA Forum (http://saforum.org) marketing work group chair, and director of telecom platform software at HP (www.hp.com).
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi