Xtra shapes up for a happier new year

Xtra is shaping up for a happier new year as it distances itself from Telecom in-house solutions which have provided more grief than gain. Billing and registration glitches should be gone, and a review of the Xtra site's design may give Xtra's own design team more chance to shine.

Xtra is shaping up for a happier new year as it distances itself from Telecom in-house solutions which have provided more grief than gain.

The final pieces have been put in place of IPAC 9000, a Sun Solaris-based turnkey solution which should end the registration and billing glitches thrown up by the troublesome back end application created by Telecom's own Pacific Star company.

The attraction of Technology Applications Inc's IPAC 9000 has been powerful enough for Xtra to reach beyond its existing relationship with Silicon Graphics to deploy it. SGI is still in line to provide the host platform for Xtra's choice of media server - a deal strongly rumoured to have gone to the Informix Illustra server.

Xtra has also been steadily distancing itself from the design legacy of the Telecom-owned, Brisbane-based Digital Video Productions. Xtra has hung much of its branding on DVP's original design work, but DVP has done no work on the Xtra site for months.

Xtra management has been seeking input from outside consultants, and design changes later in the year are a certainty - but whether these will see it abandon the branded images it has spent much money establishing is less certain.

Xtra's youthful design team, which now numbers a dozen, is said to feel frustrated that its work is submerged beneath DVP's design elements - and the huge, inflexible "X-World" gif in particular. The fact that Clear Net's site has won awards and praise since its launch has only rubbed salt into the wound.

"They don't get it when they look at the Clear Net site and in one way you can't blame them," says one source. "Xtra has maybe 1000 pages now, as opposed to about six and a lot of links on Clear Net. In fact, that's part of the problem - Xtra has a good team but they're almost wholly occupied with site maintenance."

SGI is meanwhile taking Xtra's use of Sun technology on the chin, and New Zealand head Greg Sitters says "we supported Xtra's decision to adopt IPAC and we still do.

"Xtra has tried some things which haven't been totally successful, and they have done an analysis to decide what was the right solution for them. IPAC is proven and well established in the US and I think it was the right choice. The fact is, it runs on Sun - it's a very vertical, tightly-integrated application."

IPAC 9000 is a portfolio of application modules for ISPs, covering usage accounting, processing and billing, subscriber database administration; real-time credit card transaction processing, sales, operations and technical reporting, network administration and other services. TAI claims particular strengths in report generation and automatic subscriber registration.

IPAC's facility for centralised network administration should also help tidy up a situation where Netway, Datacom and Telecom IT Services have been each responsible for different facets of Telecom Internet Services' network and, according to one Xtra source "no one knew who owned what."

Sitters says the adoption of IPAC has not meant the removal of any SGI hardware from Xtra's network- "We were never hosting the billing system in the first place," - and he is confident SGI will return to the frame with Telecom's forthcoming choice over a media server platform - which is a straight choice between Oracle Web server and Informix Illustra server. Informix is strongly rumoured to have won the multi-million dollar contract, but either option leaves SGI in contention.

"From discussions we've had, it's clear that Xtra is continuing to look at different types of application solution - they've always been very interested in things to do with media," says Sitters. "The difficulty is there's so much change in the market that they can make a technology decision now and it'll be the wrong one in three months' time.

"Given our strength and capability in handling media, I'm confident about our role."

Sitters says the choice of software solution is less important than "conformance to certain standards. We can set some technical conformances. Telecom will need to choose carefully or they could end up in a technological black hole."

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