One of the few announcements of new provisioning products came from Syndesis Ltd. (see Syndesis Touts Provisioning). And that announcement, of an expanded range of support for broadband voice and optical services, doesn't point to a single off-the-shelf package.
What gives? If provisioning is so vital to the future of optical networking, where are the goods?
The goods are getting there, optical provisioning independent software vendors (ISVs) say; one just has to know how and where to look for them. Broadband and optical provisioning tools are anything but "off the shelf," they say, and expecting one-size-fits-all packages will lead to disappointment.
Instead, when a carrier opts to replace existing equipment with new optical gear, it begins a large-scale, behind-the-scenes, custom integration project. Links among existing equipment and operations support systems (OSSs) that provide functions like service activation, order processing, and billing must be reworked. And those links and OSSs are often highly customized to begin with.
"This is not shrink-wrapped software," says Russell Rothstein, VP of strategic development at HarmonyCom, which makes software to automate service provisioning tasks. "It's a staged process for any telecom provider."
"Traditional companies can spend up to 10 percent of their entire capex on OSS integration," says Mark H. Mortensen, chief marketing officer at Granite Systems Inc., which creates telecom inventories with links to OSSs.
Here are some of the key criteria the ISVs say they use to differentiate their wares:
- Devices supported. This is a numbers game. Syndesis, for example, says it offers support for 60 devices from 15 vendors, with more on the way. Marketing VP Martin J. Steinmann carries the list with him, along with another list of supported products that are in the works.
There are good reasons for this approach to marketing. The closest provisioning ISVs come to off-the-shelf software is a collection of interfaces and modules that enable specific types and brands of devices to be managed, provisioned, and integrated with a carrier's OSSs. When a provisioning vendor can offer support for a specific device, that means customers can save the costs of writing that support into their customized project.
Also, provisioning vendors usually can't offer support for specific devices until after they're commissioned to do so. After all, it's not practical for a vendor that relies heavily on services revenue to generate products that may or may not sell on the open market. So offering an interface is often a badge of an ISV's activity with customers.
This situation leads to lopsidedness in product offerings. HarmonyCom, for instance, admits that a lack of customer demand for wavelength-provisioning products has led to a lack of DWDM support in its wares. "We haven't built more WDM because we have more demand for ATM, Sonet, and Ethernet support from our customers," Rothstein says.
In contrast, vendors like Syndesis and Emperative Inc. have deliberately sought out projects that enable them to support DWDM gear from a range of vendors (see Syndesis Ups Provisioning Ante and Emperative Extends Its Reach), with more to come. Both Emperative and Syndesis say they have optical interfaces in the works or completed that can't yet be announced.
- Speed of adding interfaces. The customized nature of provisioning also means software vendors compete on the speed with which they can add new interfaces. Abraham Gutman, CEO of Emperative, boasts: "We can support new devices in four engineering weeks instead of six to eight months."
- Specific functions of software. Not all provisioning products offer the same capabilities. Some are focused more on directing traffic between OSSs. Others are better at hands-on configuration of boxes. Often, more than one product is required to achieve the desired result.
"There are different kinds of tools, aimed at solving different problems," says Granite's Mortensen. For this reason, vendors often tout their "flexibility" in being able to link to other ISVs' wares. Granite, for instance, is often deployed with products from ISVs such as Emperative, Syndesis, HarmonyCom, and Astracon Inc. that are focused on the broadband space. In addition, integrators might need to link these wares with a range of OSSs constructed in-house, or with billing and order entry systems from other suppliers.
- Development tools. Having the right application program interfaces (APIs) is important in this environment, the ISVs say. "After we're done, our APIs are easy enough to allow you to do the extensions yourself as needed," Emperative's Gutman claims.
"Business is terrific," concurs Neil Baimel, chairman and founder of Syndesis. "Now is the time when top-tier providers see they need to get more out of their networks, to make it easier to automate provisioning."
As time passes, increased emphasis on provisioning tools will eventually enable ISVs to offer more products that approach off-the-shelf status. "We're not there yet, but we see considerable progress," Baimel says. Meantime, there's plenty of work. "The proliferation of devices isn't going to change anytime soon."
- Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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