As he swung through the jungle, Tarzan often wondered about the future of integrated networks and how could they be interfaced easily and managed using a common programming environment.
This was no idle speculation because he could detect the scent of serious money on the breeze. Much like jungle creepers, the network equipment providers(NEP) give the impression of playing together but in practice, the onus of integrating the routers, switches and supplier management software lies with the individual telcos.
In New Zealand, it is likely that Telecom has the largest integration legacy, but with the rapid changes in technology both Vodafone and TelstraClear have similar and growing problems. The telcos’ dream of easy and rapid software development of billing systems, micro-payments, content integration and all sorts of NEP-independent software which can add value across to their largely proprietary networks and protocols. Not only is this a problem in New Zealand, it is a global problem. However, the problem has been recognised as an opportunity by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and targeted for high-growth funding.
One of the most important initiatives in recent times has been the Java API for Integrated Networks (JAIN) developed with Sun and the Java Community Programme. Using Java for real-time network management may seem contradictory given Java’s habit of taking a tea break when the heap is full. But not any longer, according to Nick Earle of OpenCloud in Wellington. Over the last couple of years, the company has been working closely with the Sun JVM teams to get a JVM with garbage collection that is sympathetic to real-time applications. According to Earle, “We needed special builds of JVM 1.4 to get the required response times but we can now perform with a standard JVM1.5”.OpenCloud has been an early beneficiary of the NZTE programme and has co-lead writing the specification and developing Rhino, one of the first Service Logic Execution Environments (SLEE) in the world. A SLEE is like a webserver on steroids, designed to give rapid real-time responses to network devices. The SLEE talks to the network devices through protocol-specific resource adapters like Ericsson’s SS7, for example.
Programming the server application can now be done with an Eclipse plugin thanks to contributions from OpenCloud and others. Rhino has been under test by both Vodafone in Spain and NTT in Japan, as well as a number of the other major global telcos, and it could be Rhino that is giving off the distinctive scent of money. Applications on top of the SLEE could be even bigger money spinners.
Both Otago and Waikato universities have taken a strong interest in this developing area and have applied to the government for funding of research labs. However, in the short-term what does appear to be missing from the mix is a number of Java software houses wanting to develop applications for the telcos on top of Rhino.
Because of this, John Houlker of the NZTE is talking to a number of companies in an attempt to build up a centre of expertise and, potentially, a market for Rhino applications. The timing of this is critical as it will be a highly competitive field in three or four years and, just like swinging through the vines, timing can make the difference between a fun ride and a pratfall.