This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.
The service broker has become an important new component of today’s public network infrastructure. Here, INTERNET TELEPHONY’s Paula Bernier (News - Alert) talks with Ken Lee, director of worldwide product marketing for service delivery platform and unified communications for the Oracle Communications Global Business Unit, about what this new network element does and why it’s meaningful for service providers and their customers.
What is a service broker?
Lee: A network element that efficiently manages service interaction and composition, resides between the service layer and the converging network, and is traditionally decoupled from the core switch and the service execution or service creation environment.
Is this a new product category? When did it arise and why?
Lee: Yes, this is relatively new product category. The traditional suppliers of legacy IN systems, the network equipment providers, have been reluctant to deliver service brokers because it promotes a fundamental shift in how IN services are implemented and delivered. This category has been in existence for at least eight to 10 years, but only gained significant traction five to six years ago, in part due to legacy IN system end of lifes, adoption of IMS, and the need to integrate IN-IMS service capabilities going forward.
Did some industry organization – like 3GPP, the IETF, etc. – define the service broker?
Lee: There are no standards bodies defining service brokers. Organizations like 3GPP have specified one use case for a service broker called a SCIM, or service capability interaction manager, in the context of IMS as a service orchestration engine between multiple IMS application servers. There are also industry consortia such as the Service Broker Forum. But the protocols and languages on which service brokers have been implemented have been developed by standards bodies such as ETSI (News - Alert), IETF, 3GPP, OMA, W3C, and JCP, among others.
Who’s using service brokers for what applications today?
Lee: Fixed and mobile operators have deployed, and continue to actively deploy, service brokers to implement solutions such as IN replacement/migration, IN-to-IN and IN-to-IMS mediation, and service orchestration (aka SCIM). Service brokers provide the protocol mediation and orchestration function, and application servers are used in conjunction with service brokers to implement the IN and IMS applications which are required. Operators are using service brokers to consolidate and re-implement existing legacy prepaid charging and online charging systems on an open, standards-based platform. This is the so-called next-generation IN approach to IN replacement/migration.
Lee: We expect the main use cases for service brokers to remain in the domain of providing an open, standards-based approach to implementing IN-to-IN, fixed-mobile, and IN-to-IMS migration/mediation solutions. This will include the migration, or replacement, of existing IN applications, such as prepaid, VPN, local number portability, home zone, etc., from a closed, proprietary platform to one based on open, industry-standard platforms such as Java. In addition to these existing primary use cases, we believe that service brokers will gradually evolve to more natively support policy management, online charging, and subscriber data management solutions. As more and more fixed and mobile operators look for quality of service solutions based on policy control and personalized services using subscriber profile information dispersed across multiple networks, the service broker’s ability for network connectivity and mediation becomes a core capability.
What does Oracle offer in the way of a service broker?
Lee: Oracle Communications Service Broker is the service broker component of the Oracle Communications Service Delivery product family. Oracle Communications Service Broker allows network operators to replicate existing services with reduced development time and cost using latest application server technologies and platforms. To reduce development and deployment times, it includes a comprehensive set of productized interworking modules that implement intelligent network state-machines as well as network timers and adverse scenario handling for each supported network interface. This removes the complexity of application development for legacy networks allowing the developer to focus on the application functionality rather than network protocol interworking. Oracle Communications Service Broker enables a broader base of Java and IT developers to replicate services currently running on the legacy IN platforms as well as develop new services on open standards-based IT technologies, including Oracle Communications Converged Application Server, by removing the network complexities associated with traditional communications infrastructure.
There’s a lot of talk lately about policy solutions and subscriber management solutions. How, if at all, does the service broker fit into that discussion?
Lee: For policy management, service brokers can provide support for the key policy and charging rules function, or PCRF, as specified by 3GPP IMS, by supporting the necessary protocols to connect with the service control and policy enforcement components in various next-generation networks. This becomes especially important as mobile operators migrate to all-IP based 4G networks such as LTE (News - Alert). As the rules-based policy orchestration and mediation engine in the 3GPP IMS architecture, service brokers can easily support online charging solutions by providing connectivity of the PCRF with the online charging system, subscriber profile repository, and policy and charging enforcement functions, or PCEF.
Service brokers can also play a key role in subscriber data management solutions by providing connectivity with, and interworking between, different subscriber profile data stores, which in general support different protocols. Service brokers can abstract the application/services layer from the underlying complexity deriving from the multitude of subscriber data stores, such as databases, LDAP directories, HLRs, HSS, file systems, etc. The service provider functions as a subscriber data mediation layer among different application functions, allowing application developers and providers to focus on what to do with subscriber data versus worrying about how to connect with all the different types of subscriber data protocols.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi