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Osmine's Startup Cowboys

If problems create opportunities, then Compro Consulting has a bright future -- at least for the next few months.

The Richardson, Texas-based startup is one of the first outfits to specialize in helping vendors get through the challenging Osmine process conducted by Telcordia Technologies Inc. But it's not alone: At least two others, including OS Ventures Inc., based in the Atlanta area, and software vendor Lumos Technologies, are hawking help with Osmine.

When it comes to commanding a captive market, few vendors have reached Telcordia's status. Building on the legacy of supplying software to the regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) as part of Bellcore, the company has created a sizeable business keeping vendors and carriers entrenched in its wares, which comprise comprehensive, high-end network and service management systems -- carriers' operations support systems (OSSs).

Through the Osmine process, Telcordia certifies that a vendor's device can be managed with Telcordia's OSSs, which help keep most U.S. network services up and running. Osmine is therefore a prerequisite for any vendor seeking to sell to incumbent local exchange carriers in the U.S. It's also a guarantee that carriers' management systems will work properly regardless of the equipment they choose.

The trouble is, Osmine is an expensive process that takes an average of a year and a half and at least a six-figure outlay to complete (see Telcordia's Osmine Goldmine). A boon for Telcordia, but tough for vendors, particularly startups. Service providers also shell out big bucks on maintenance fees to Telcordia to ensure the goods they buy will fit into their OSS schemes.

The downturn's taken some fat off Telcordia's cash cow, though. Vendors with tight budgets can't hire the necessary help to ensure the lengthy and complicated Osmine process gets done properly. Carriers, too, are down a few personnel. Industry sources say Telcordia has been pinched by the famine.

Enter Compro and its competition, who'll help vendors decide what they need from Telcordia in order to please their prospective customers, the RBOCs. These consultants help vendors work with their carrier prospects to determine which Telcordia systems they'll need to adjust their products to. Then, they work out a reasonable plan with Telcordia to get the specs and testing done.

If it sounds simple, it isn't. There are lots of pitfalls in the process that can become money pits. "We help customers save money in a lot of ways," says Compro CEO Sharon Caswell, who used to work at ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) and Rel-Tek. "We use real project management, for one thing."

Caswell says many startups dedicate product managers without Osmine experience to oversee their Osmine process. These managers often don't know what to ask of Telcordia, or how to push back when necessary. Often they miss a deadline in the timeline set by Telcordia for getting their products coded to fit the necessary OSSs. This can generate huge penalties. "It costs vendors a couple of hundred thousand every time they miss a scheduled date," she says.

OS Venture's CEO and founder, Ian Foster, says companies seeking Osmine certification often don't know what they really want. It's not Telcordia's job to tell them what OSS products they need to comply with, and if the carrier isn't specific, the vendor can end up asking Telcordia for more help than they need. What's more, if they're not clear up front in their goals, the end result may have to be redone -- another huge expense.

Reducing the margin for error can save a ton. "We typically save customers $2 million on average per project," Foster says.

Both Compro Consulting and OS Ventures are tiny. Compro, started in February 2001, has just 12 employees. It's privately funded by an individual, Bob Hawkins, a cattle rancher turned entrepreneur who acts as COO. OS Ventures has just four employees and was funded by Foster himself.

Neither company seems to think their size is an issue. Business is moving along briskly, both claim. That's not to say any of their present or past customers are ready to go on record to testify: In recent announcements of Osmine projects, vendors such as Actelis Networks and WaveSmith Networks Inc. boasted of having achieved certification on their own (see WaveSmith Scores Osmine). Lumos, which is set to be purchased by Micromuse Inc. (Nasdaq: MUSE) for $2.7 million (see Micromuse to Acquire Lumos), is a different animal, a software vendor offering agents that work with specific OSSs from Telcordia. Lumos's wares reduce the time it takes vendors to generate the code required to meet Osmine requirements. And while Lumos isn't a consultancy, it offers templates that give vendors of Sonet, ATM, and DWDM gear the basic tools they need to specify links with Telcordia's NMA OSS. This speeds the process and helps eliminate guesswork (and extra expense).

Lumos CEO Conor Dowling says all this is a big help to Osmine seekers. "Companies now are reluctant to build out staff in areas they don't perceive as core," he says. They often can't afford to spend on having a person dedicated to the Osmine process, he says. Lumos's templates help create good specs ahead of time without requiring extra bodies.

So far, the two consultancies and Lumos are the only companies we found that offer specific help with Osmine. But the ongoing downturn, plus the vigor of Telcordia's grip on the OSS market, ensures there's plenty of room for more players.

Telcordia could not be reached for comment on this story. Spokespeople there refuse to talk to Light Reading, citing discontent over past coverage.

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
GCLLC 12/5/2012 | 12:54:09 AM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys That is how I view OSMINE. It is a necessary evil! I have worked for 2 RBOCs and on specific projects to "replace" Telcordia OSS. Both failed to meet their objective. But that is another story.

Around the same time Compro Consulting started up, I started doing OSMINE consulting independently. Why? Because working for an RBOC and being involved from that perspective, I saw how much wasted time and money the supplier community endured. Today, most if not all former RBOCs do not have an OSMINE staff and certainly not like it was years ago. So, the typical response to the supplier question "What OSS do we need to OSMINE to?" the response is ALL! Well, folks, that is minimum 18 months and millions of dollars. So if my small fee just reduces 1 OSS, the supplier is far ahead.

OSMINE is performed on major OSS that support operations functions for the network and specifically the traffic carrying NEs. Yes, the Class 5 switch, and also the Access area of pair gain, DLC and NGDLC. It also covers the inter-office transport network based on T1, DS3, OCn and includes SONET and WDM.

If you think OSMINE is THE evil, look at the Telcordia Heritage OSS. Largely, these systems are at least 15-25 years old. Flexibility is not a word in their 'data dictionary'. Most new NE development will need to have their wiz-bang functionality "dumbed up".

So, you ask why stick with those OSS? Well, performance on a large scale, comfortability amonst the telco personnel and a horrendous conversion to any other OSS. Besides, Telcordia seems to always be monitoring NGOSS activity at the former RBOCs and they find creative ways to protect their business.

OSMINE is a necessary process because a supplier cannot sell an NE to these big 'Bell' corporations without having their product managed by the Telcordia OSS. Inventory, Alarm Management and Provisioning are just too important to leave to chance or worse yet, full manual activity.
gea 12/4/2012 | 9:14:38 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys "Spokespeople there refuse to talk to Light Reading, citing discontent over past coverage."

I remember reading a couple of pieces on Telcordia's OSMINE process, and as an ex-Telcordia empolyee, I found the article quite fair. So in all likelihood, the dummies at Telcordia were remembering posts to the boards as part of the story.

Leave to a monopoly to not respond to such an article (in an industry where hostility towards OSMINE is VERY high)...these people think they know how to do business, but one day they'll be out on their asses.
Gandalf 12/4/2012 | 9:14:29 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys A very interesting concept we have here. LetGÇÖs say you are not entirely ticked off yet, after you have learned what Telcordia wants you to pay for their ridiculous certification. Now along comes a salesman who tells you to pour more money down this drain? Oh please, someone put an end to this insanity!

To be objective, one has to admit that the whole notion of having some standards to follow is not that entirely idiotic proposal. Understandably, the established network OSS represent an investment on part of any given RBOC and they should expect the vendors to be able to integrate. That is not to say you need Telcordia to do it, not to mention to have a complete monopoly over it and certainly it does not mean you should have to pay yet another bunch of consultants along the way. Clearly these guys have figured out that if Telcordia is squeezing something like over $500 an hour type of fees out of this silly boondoggle, they might as well try to ride the coattails and see if there are enough gullible people out there to spend even more.

By far the best solution would be to generate a major swell in the industry to create serious competition for the OSMINE OSS, which are ancient and unwieldy anyway.

The next best thing would be to get some other company to create competition for Telcordia by getting into the maintenance and certification business of the existing / deployed OSS. As far as the often cited TelcordiaGÇÖs intellectual property issue goes, well, the RBOCs are already modifying the Telcordia code themselves anyway, so they would be just handing it over on a contract basis to another company; in theory that should get around the IP issue.

Once Telcordia discovers itself out in the cold (and I cannot wait for that to happen), we might actually get some progress along the way of creating decent modern interfaces on open concept basis to negotiated standards. About bloody timeGǪGǪ.
beowulf888 12/4/2012 | 9:14:23 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys Gea:
You wrote...
"Leave to a monopoly to not respond to such an article (in an industry where hostility towards OSMINE is VERY high)..."

Is the hostility toward OSMINE really that great? All I ever heard from the RBOCs was that our equipment (routers and switches) and the associated element managers HAD to be OSMINE compliant.

Of course, I asked one engineer whether they actually used the OSMINE OSS, and he said only on the legacy Class 5 switches. It was unclear to me whether the OSMINE OSS could even manage non-circuit-switched equipment.

Can anyone comment on the functionality and limitations of the OSMINE OSS?

--Beo
Ringed? 12/4/2012 | 9:14:10 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys Beo,
OSMINE is typically circuit switched but there is a new standard in the works co-chaired by Tellabs and Turin Networks that adds STS virtual concatenation to handle 10/100 Ethernet and GbE.

Having said that. My experience has been that OSMINE/Telecordia/SAIC is a racket just like the insurance industry. To be fair, there is at least competition in the insurance industry.

http://www.turinnetworks.com/p...

Ringed?
gea 12/4/2012 | 9:14:09 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys "Of course, I asked one engineer whether they actually used the OSMINE OSS, and he said only on the legacy Class 5 switches. It was unclear to me whether the OSMINE OSS could even manage non-circuit-switched equipment."

Nah...ALL of the SONET and circuit-switched stuff has to be OSMINE compliant, and now even DWDM stuff as well. (As for ATM gear, I don't know.)

There is currently no support for truly routed networks, however. Perhaps they've started looking into MPLS as an inroad.

(But then again, I was never in their software division...now that I think about it, some of the Telcordia OSSs may support some aspects of routers. Most assume a circuit-switched paradigm and will probably be un-retro-fittable to routed networks.)

As for the comment below that figured that the OSMINE dominance would be fairly easy to overthrow, it should be noted that in the early 90s PacBell tried this, spending billions on a TIRKS replacement, which it even turned up one day. BUT, their network pretty much dissappeared, and PacBell quickly retreated back to the safety and security of TIRKS.

(BTW...TIRKS is supposedly the largest civilian database in the world...)

The moral of this story is that next-gen networking technology will have to be the way that networks "outgrow" the Telcordia OSSs. They'll never be out-and-out replaced.
grapsfan 12/4/2012 | 9:13:23 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys > A very interesting concept we have here.
> LetGÇÖs say you are not entirely ticked off
> yet, after you have learned what Telcordia
> wants you to pay for their ridiculous
> certification. Now along comes a salesman
> who tells you to pour more money down this
> drain? Oh please, someone put an end to
> this insanity!


I'm not sure Gandalf understands the OSMINE insanity (that word's pretty much right), so let's talk through the value proposition of these consultants:

I'm a startup called XYZ Optics that has an NE that I want to sell to the RBOCs. I know crap from crescent rolls, so I don't know where Telcordia is:

- telling me to pay for features I don't need
- stiffing me with models that turns out to be incorrect
- reviewing the same information about my NE five and six times
- billing me double the Time & Materials estimate that it'd take for their development (nearly all OSMINE billing is T&M, an hourly rate that ranges between obscene and someone-kill-me-now-please)
- telling me I need double the NEs dedicated in the lab for testing that I really do
- inflexible about working with pre-GA loads

My initial OSMINE expense at XYZ, because I've no idea what I'm doing, comes out to $2.5 million. If I'd have had someone who knew the ropes, that cost could have been cut in half.

Wouldn't it be worth paying $200K to a consultant if the end result is a $1M+ OSMINE savings? Now, the $64K (or $1M+) question is: do these companies have the right personnel in place to actually save anyone money? Have they gone to the mattresses themselves in the past? That remains to be seen.
jamesbond 12/4/2012 | 9:13:22 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys I'm not sure Gandalf understands the OSMINE insanity (that word's pretty much right), so let's talk through the value proposition of these consultants:.........
Wouldn't it be worth paying $200K to a consultant if the end result is a $1M+ OSMINE savings?
---------------------------

My dear friend,

Hire a consultant or not, Telecordia will suck
the same amount of blood (i.e. money). People
working at Telecordia are afraid of losing their
jobs if they don't suck enough blood. So they
will find any and every excuse to delay the
process etc.

Forget Microsoft, Uncle Sam should target Telecordia for Monopolistic practices.
Gandalf 12/4/2012 | 9:13:17 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys I'm not sure Gandalf understands the OSMINE insanity (that word's pretty much right), so let's talk through the value proposition of these consultants:
________________________________________
Indeed I do. This current round is number 3 for me and the experience has only grown on the negative scale.
.
.
.Wouldn't it be worth paying $200K to a consultant if the end result is a $1M+ OSMINE savings? Now, the $64K (or $1M+) question is: do these companies have the right personnel in place to actually save anyone money? Have they gone to the mattresses themselves in the past? That remains to be seen.
_____________________________________________

You make a numerically valid case here. On the surface it would indeed seem that spending this extra cash makes sense. I guess I would have to augment my post with similar observation:

1. It's not at all obvious these companies have the necessary knowledge that would guarantee you save any money.
2. Who the heck did you hire onto your own staff that their OSS knowledge is insufficient to cut through the usual Telcordia BS.
grapsfan 12/4/2012 | 9:13:03 PM
re: Osmine's Startup Cowboys > You make a numerically valid case here. On the
> surface it would indeed seem that spending this
> extra cash makes sense. I guess I would have to
> augment my post with similar observation:

I never said it made sense! ;)

Really, I just understand why a consulting company would think there's a market in helping startups through OSMINE. I thought of the idea two years ago after my first couple of OSMINE'd NE releases.

> 1. It's not at all obvious these companies have
> the necessary knowledge that would guarantee
> you save any money.

That was my $64K question...you're absolutely right. The woman from Compro is from ADC Telecom, a company that doesn't have a lot of products that go through OSMINE (because they do more data, access, etc., than transport). No other info on her employees, nor anyone from the other company.


> 2. Who the heck did you hire onto your own staff
> that their OSS knowledge is insufficient to cut
> through the usual Telcordia BS.

You're right that, by and large, anyone who just fell off the turnip truck can see how bad Telcordia is screwing people. From my own experience, you can save OSMINE money in a number of ways, mostly just knowing how to play to their weaknesses and convince them that their initial bid was, to quote the Don, "unreasonable". Since I still have my consulting idea in mind (just with no funding yet), I won't get into any more detail.
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