Editor's Note: This holistic SearchTelecom.com series, Service delivery platforms: Changing the networking paradigm, telecom-industry consultant Tom Nolle looks at how SDPs fit into next-generation network architecture and the business advantages they provide for carriers.
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The Internet model has been agile in addressing new market opportunities, but it offers the network operator no competitive advantage.
Service-independent networks demand that services be created above the transport and connection layers of the network, which makes it important for service providers to reduce or eliminate existing legacy services silos by deploying software-based service delivery platforms (SDPs) that use a set of generic tools to support multiple technologies, including IP and Ethernet, as well as common service elements like identity, presence, location and connection, all while incorporating lifecycle management.
The fact that networks are converging on IP isn't really in doubt any more, although most industry insiders recognize that optics and Ethernet will also play major roles in the networks of the future. But a far more complicated IP convergence question is now under consideration: Will network services really be able to converge on shared infrastructure?
Operators are committed to developing new services and making the necessary changes to do so. In a CIMI Corporation survey of Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators in late 2008, all of the respondents listed their top three priorities. Seventy-eight percent of respondents listed their priorities in the following order:
- Monetization of their infrastructure investment
- Streamlining operations practices
- Responding to market opportunities and competitive pressures
In addition, a full 75% of network operators said their goals would be met through investing in service-layer technology.
To get there, the idea of service-independent networks demands that services be created above the transport and connection layers of the network. So the real next-generation network (NGN) will be decided by how next-generation services will be created and sustained, rather than just network convergence on IP, which makes this new convergence the most important one of all.
Network operators sell services, and the migration from service-specific network infrastructure to general, converged IP infrastructure creates the obvious question of how a service-independent network creates services to sell. The "Internet model" is designed to exploit universal connectivity with overlay services that are simply clients of the network. This model has been agile in addressing new market opportunities, but it offers the network operator no competitive advantage.
Network operators need a service-layer model, a way of building new services that accommodates converged infrastructure, addresses market opportunities at "Internet speed," and links to the network in a way that differentiates them from over-the-top players. For operators, as networks converge on IP, services are converging on a model of feature hosting based on a new generation of service delivery platforms (SDPs), which are software-enabled platforms that host the intelligence of the NGN.
Service-independent networks require "common use" elements
Hosting services on SDPs is not, by itself, a compelling step toward monetizing network investment. As services disconnect from siloed networks with service-specific equipment, they can create their own service silos, implementations of service features that neither take advantage of common components for execution efficiency nor exploit the proven software benefits of componentization for faster time to market. This independent-service model is widely used for over-the-top services because companies create competing solutions (think Google and Yahoo, for example) rather than suites of interoperable services.
Network operators and broader-based service providers naturally seek to reduce or eliminate service silos by creating a set of generic tools that can support common service elements like identity, presence, location and connection. These common facilities can then be used for multiple services. The same principles of reusing components can be used to develop service-specific features and tools. The result is a modular structure that supports the kind of rapid service creation sometimes called "service mashups."
Operators also want to incorporate lifecycle management into services, something that isn't needed in best-effort services that make no commitment to customer support. Where NGN services represent evolutions of legacy services like telephony, it is important to continue to support the features and feature evolution of these services and to assure the customer experience at the levels customers have come to expect.
Service delivery platforms are a combination of software tools, interfaces to link services to network elements using standard protocols, and hardware with the reliability and availability needed to provide a high quality of experience (QoE). The service delivery platform is the focus of service value for the NGN and the focus of profitable service provider business operations for the future.
About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is a member of the IEEE, ACM, TMF and IPsphere Forum, and the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal in advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his SearchTelecom.com networking blog, Uncommon Wisdom.