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November 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 11
Guest Column

COTS Platforms are All Fired Up and Ready to Go

Recently, I spent a few hours with the CTO of a tier 1 telecom equipment manufacturer to discuss the state of the commercial off-the-shelf industry.

Going into the meeting, I knew that he was concerned about his research and development cost structure – especially when it came to platform development. To minimize time and resources spent on building the platforms in house, he was actively looking into acquiring as many of the components as he could from the industry. He had also told me earlier that he wished to create a common platform for the diverse applications and services his company developed and sold to service providers.

“We have had six different groups with a total of several hundred engineers developing platforms using different hardware, different operating systems, and six different middleware implementations,” he said.

He went on to say that he was committed to reducing this duplication by creating a common application platform that different groups within the company could use. He also said he was open to using as many COTS building blocks as made sense.

I knew I had a motivated listener. I spoke to him about what an impressive job PICMG (News - Alert) had done defining the requirements of the xTCA systems, and subsequently, catalyzing a whole industry in which there are now several significant players providing dependable ATCA equipment including chassis, blades, etc. I also shared with him the optimistic projections about the uptake of these systems that I have been hearing about from industry-savvy journalists and analysts.

Then I shared my own personal experience with how Linux, especially Carrier Grade Linux (CGL), has so quickly become a requirement for many telecom applications within a few short years. I informed him that he could not only obtain a standards-based hardware platform running any type of Linux from one of many distributors, but he could also acquire a sophisticated set of middleware capabilities based on the Service Availability Forum specifications so that his team no longer had to develop these capabilities in house. This resonated with him.

“And you can get a vertically integrated, pre-tested and application-ready platform from your COTS ecosystem today. All based on open standards,” I added.

I then listed several of the system suppliers that I knew offered pre-integrated, vertical stacks – the hardware, the operating system and the middleware services – all based on the available COTS building blocks.

It took another lively half an hour before he said the story was convincing. He was pre-disposed to acquire an application-ready platform rather than having his company build it, provided it met a key set of fundamental requirements. He said that the many presentations he had sat through on this topic had not fully addressed some of his primary concerns.

Compliance with industry standards is important and necessary, but compliance alone is not sufficient. Various layers within the COTS stack must first meet key functional and non-functional requirements.

Through years of investment, telecom equipment manufacturers have developed and enhanced key software components, namely middleware, and they would like to maintain some of these components moving forward. Often, they are a part of competitive differentiation. So the COTS-based, application-ready platform must allow for that.

Significant effort may be involved when transitioning an existing application to the COTS-based platform. It is important to know specifically the cost benefit of such a transition prior to launching such a project.

And finally, it is important to clearly understand whether or not this transition can be made without introducing de-stabilization, cost overruns and schedule delays.

I believe that those of us who consider ourselves part of the COTS ecosystems can and should face the above challenges head-on. Done correctly, we can combat these challenges.

While tier 1 equipment manufacturers are now taking a hard look at open standards-based high availability middleware, tier 2 and 3 equipment manufacturers often do not have the time or bandwidth to implement high- availability middleware in house. Additionally, the desire to be first to market can make implementing high availability an afterthought; however, incorporating the functionality into a later version becomes costly and is not time efficient.

The SA Forum is educating designers and developers about the importance of implementing high availability early on during product development. IT

Asif Naseem is president of the Service Availability Forum. He is also president and COO of GoAhead Software (News - Alert) (

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