Telecom platform development is on the verge of dramatic change. Hardware standards such as the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA) and Service Availability Forum (SAF) standards have created a shift in thinking. Telecom designers now can leverage a standard platform, enabling them to focus their energies on product-differentiating tasks. The question remains, though, if that is the best we can do. The answer is a definitive no. We also now have the option of using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) middleware to further reduce development time and cost.
Until recently, most OEMs had a dedicated in-house team or department writing middleware—the layers of software that sit between the operating system and the application programs. Even the most basic COTS middleware offers designers a foundation of core services that simplify communications between applications that are spread across diverse operating systems and processors. Some of the latest, more advanced COTS middleware products also provide system monitoring, fault management, and upgrade management services that make it easier to deploy, maintain, and upgrade systems as they operate in the field.
When designers choose to make the switch to COTS middleware, usually they are most impressed by its time and cost savings, improved reliability, and flexible support for standards-based platforms, as compared to in-house development. In fact, by using a commercial middleware package, OEMs can dramatically reduce time-to-market.
Compared to developing an equivalent service layer from scratch, OEMs can save dozens of man-years in development time and several hundred thousand lines of code. Now, they can simply port the commercial middleware and, if necessary, customize it for their application. OEMs can further streamline the deployment process by selecting advanced middleware packages that move beyond basic functionality to offer substantial maintenance, debugging, and management features.
In addition to time and cost savings, there also is a notable benefit to reliability with a commercial middleware product. OEMs start with a package that is complete, proven, and tested, so there is no need to build, debug, mature, or maintain it. This is a real advantage to mitigating risk and ensuring the reliability of the end product.
Commercial middleware takes reliability one step beyond the “end product,” though, because it can be scaled and ported to next-generation platforms, processors, operating systems, and applications. In contrast, an in-house middleware team typically is under-staffed and facing severe time constraints. So more often than not, companies are forced to short-change the development of their infrastructure software. While this stopgap approach may get the middleware off of the critical path quickly, the resulting software is rarely scalable or portable to next-generation platforms, and it often must be completely rewritten for future products.
The penalties of this type of “quick fix” approach are felt well into the future when the individual application developers end up solving the same set of problems over and over. In contrast, a commercial middleware package is feature-rich and specifically designed to port to multiple platforms and scale to different sized networks. With a commercial product, then, designers can effectively scale and “future proof” their designs, making it much easier to roll out next-generation products with different requirements.
Perhaps one of the most promising aspects of commercial middleware is the potential for pre-integrated hardware/middleware systems. The standardization and proliferation of advanced telecom platforms (ATCA) is the key enabler for pre-integrated platforms, and those systems are expected to see a huge upswing in adoption in 2006.
With standard ATCA hardware and SAF-compliant COTS middleware, telecommunications platform development will be significantly easier, and OEMs can stop reinventing the wheel with each product development cycle. Instead, they can concentrate almost entirely on application and feature development, which undoubtedly will lead to feature-rich products that hit the market sooner.
Yes, telecommunications platform development is changing. Commercial middleware already is having a significant impact on this market. OEMs can leverage it to slash time-to-market and speed feature development, making them more likely to leave the competition in their wake.
Terry Pearson, VP of Product Management for Enea, can be reached at [email protected].