In this blog I’ve noted many times that service providers have been searching for years for a true “service layer” architecture, one that could help them enter the new age of OTT or hosted services. Network equipment vendors have been curiously backward in supporting this transformation, even though many of them have most of the tools needed. As a result, operators have begun to break with vendors and chart their own path, including Telefonica whose Digital operation is a showcase for other operators looking for inspiration in NGN services.
Telefonica’s Tu Me platform is essentially a set of APIs, and some network vendors have more than a fair share of APIs. One such vendor is Alcatel-Lucent, whose notion of the “high-leverage network” seems very congruent with operator direction. The problem with Alcatel-Lucent has been less a lack of technology than a lack of effective articulation.
Well, Alcatel-Lucent may be trying to fix their problem. Last week the company announced a program (professional services plus product elements) designed to help operators become players in what Alcatel-Lucent calls the “digital economy”. The program, from a positioning perspective, is all about APIs as the composable elements of the services of the future. This API thrust seems to be linked to a much broader effort to bring some of the Alcatel-Lucent strong points out from the oblivion of poor articulation. It may be that effort more than the new program that’s helpful to Alcatel-Lucent down the line.
I’ve always been of the view that one element of Alcatel-Lucent’s Open API Program, the Service Composition Framework (SCF) was the key to its success—if success it will have. SCF is the exposure and orchestration piece of the puzzle, the way that APIs get linked to create some unified experience. Alcatel-Lucent has had this element for a year or more but it’s not been visible; it’s now a key part of their website positioning of Open API, and thus of HLN.
Alcatel-Lucent has also now acknowledged one of the key points of service-layer development for operators; you have to figure out how to expose your network assets, and that means more than QoS. Their new professional services activities are aimed in large part at the process of creating durable service assets out of existing infrastructure and systems. These assets, presumably exposed via APIs, could then be composed with SCF or simply made a part of an API inventory that Alcatel-Lucent has also obtained (through acquisition) tools to sustain.
There’s no question that this is progress, and there’s little question that a serious drive by Alcatel-Lucent on the service layer will generate competitive responses. None of the major vendors have gotten much service provider respect for their service-layer plans; of the vendors who had any influence to speak of only Cisco gained in our spring operator survey, and they gained only a little. The players we’re most interested in watching are the other mobile giants, Ericsson and NSN, because they share a problem with Alcatel-Lucent—a problem beyond articulation, though they have that one too.
The issue is IMS. Outside the IMS community itself there are few who believe that IMS can play a role in data services these days, and yet the Big Three mobile players are all committed at least pro forma to IMS as the mobile service solution. One truth about the modern service layer is that there IS no “mobile service solution” only a “service solution”. Alcatel-Lucent seems to be moving toward an API-zation of IMS, and if that’s true they might be preparing to position IMS as one of those exposable assets.
NSN’s position on services is cloud-friendly but it’s lacking in detail on IMS. Instead NSN seems to be positioning its service layer along TMF lines, which I think is curious given that Ericsson just bought Telcordia and thus has a stronger position in both the TMF and OSS/BSS spaces. Are they counter-punching? Could be. Ericsson has Telcordia, of course, but they are also prime sponsors of an open-source high-availability framework called Open Service Availability Framework or OpenSAF. There are a lot of good things in OpenSAF and there are even some links between it and modern issues like SDNs, but like Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson has been pretty ineffective in pushing its service-layer vision or exposing its credentials. Maybe now both NSN and Ericsson will be forced to take a more aggressive position. Maybe they’ll also have to address the service-to-IMS connection better.