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TM Forum Crowdsourcing Open APIs

Carol Wilson
12/19/2016
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The TM Forum today announced 13 new open APIs as part of its ongoing effort to enable telecom operators to expose digital assets as services, without the encumbrance of legacy back-office systems. And this time around, the global standards group is taking a crowdsourcing approach to a process it once tightly managed, with hopes of working much faster.

The Open API program has been in the works for three years but was publicly unveiled last May at TM Forum Live! in Nice, where the original nine service provider backers were on hand. Today, 17 service providers are on board, but the Forum is expecting a couple of hundred to sign on by 2018, with mounting pressure on operators to find new revenue in the digital services realm. (See 9 Global Telcos Back Open APIs Scheme.)

Today's announcement was part of a broader upgrade to TM Forum 's Frameworx standards and best practices that include updates as well to Agile IT and Internet of Things initiatives. Continual upgrades to Frameworx is not a new thing, but the way these Open APIs are being created is different, says Joann O'Brien, vice president of Collaborative R&D at the Forum.

The Open API program itself was born of recognition within the Forum that it needed both shorter lifecycles for its API development and more lightweight REST-based APIs if it was going to help its network operator members more rapidly expose digital assets within their networks, and capture digital services revenues in the process. In the first two years of the program, the TM Forum developed what O'Brien calls "crisply defined APIs like trouble-ticketing and catalog management" covering well-known functions. (See Mapping Open APIs With TM Forum.)

Beginning last summer with its Action Week in Vancouver, the Forum focused on "being able to crowdsource APIs and then govern and manage the scaling up of that effort," O'Brien tells Light Reading in an interview. "We have put that in place and the APIs that come out this week are the first proof point of that effort."

That means that any member company can propose an API in a particular space or bring their own management API to the forum as a suggested industry standard.

"They propose it and then it goes through a process to make sure it is not bespoke to that company, but genuinely fit as a generic API that will work for everybody," she tells Light Reading. "And then we build out the Swagger and the Postman and the other complimenting assets and make it a package, which fundamentally makes it usable."

For those not fluent in app-speak, Swagger specifies the RESTful contract for a given API including the details of its resources and operations so it can be used in developments and integrated into other assets as well. Postman is a toolchain for API developers to make it easier to document, test, monitor and share APIs.

As part of this process, the TM Forum has its own specs for documenting, describing and defining the API.

"Then we build the reference implementation which is executable, and we also now create what we call an API conformance profile that tells you, for every feature of the API, if it is it mandatory or optional," O'Brien says. That last step is critical because it informs decisions by operators on how they can modify or extend what they do with that API, while maintaining interoperability.


Want to know more about NFV and Open Source strategies? Check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.


Interoperability is an ongoing theme for TM Forum, but in the digital services world, it is taking on new meaning. Network operators know it is not enough to develop their own services faster -- they need to be able to interconnect with other operators to deliver new services over a global footprint, beyond anything a single service provider can offer. Thus, specific carriers have some efforts underway to connect -- AT&T and Colt for example -- but most want to see that process done on a broader scale. (See AT&T: MEF Could Catalyze Key Specs, AT&T, Colt Claim Major SDN Advance and MEF, TM Forum Unite With Open Source Groups on Network Vision.)

The TM Forum is one of the groups stepping up to that challenge, along with the MEF and others, and hoping to approach it in an open source manner. This week's announcement includes the first of what O'Brien calls conformance test kits that can be used in automating API testing. (See TM Forum Wants Role of Open Source Glue.)

"We are also building what we call a conformance test kit -- so they will be able to execute the server side of API against that," O'Brien says. "And if we automatically generate a report for them, it will state 'pass' or 'fail', or where it passed or where it failed against the conformance profile. The first of those is in the Frameworx release going out this week and we are currently running pilots on those."

Vendors with whom the Forum is working till be rolling out conformance test kits over the next few months. The organization is also working to make product and service APIs more generic, for re-use with virtualized network functions.

O'Brien says the Open APIs being announced this week include "some less obvious ones" such as a new loyalty management API, as well as major new features such as a change management API and a new service program management API.

The response from the industry has been very strong, she maintains, with service providers pushing to see this work get done sooner rather than later -- thus the expectation of rapid growth of the program in coming months.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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