In late October I visited China to discuss SOA with several telecom customers. I am a little behind on my blogging, so bear with me. Like they say, sometimes it’s hard blogging about the things you do when you are so busy doing the things you should be blogging about… 😉
Saturday morning, just before flying home, I had a chance to visit the Forbidden City. Lulu from IONA’s Beijing office was kind enough to accompany me so I wouldn’t get lost. I really recommend it if you are in Beijing, it’s a great old palace with lots of temples and great museums of clocks, manuscripts, bronzes, and other things.
Me in front of a ceremonial hill at the back of the Forbidden City
It’s amazing how quickly Beijing changes. I was last there about a year and a half ago, and since that time three subway lines have opened, and an entire new wing was added to the hotel where I stay. The big question of course is whether the city will be ready for the 2008 Olympics. I think it will be a close call, there will be some problems, but they will pull it off all right.
And they are apparently keeping up with the latest IT trends. Anyway SOA and Web services are pretty hot in the telecom area right now, especially within the new Service Delivery Platforms (SDP). Just as they are in other parts of the world, in China service orientation and Web services are seen as techniques and tools for improving the effeciency of delivering new telecommunication services to market.
Sometimes you hear things like “the Chinese market lags behind Europe and the U.S.” but I’m not sure that’s true. For one thing, that’s a very broad generalization that implies European and U.S. companies are all at the same stage of advanced thinking, or that no Chinese companies are thinking about advanced topics.
I spoke at an SDP conference this past June in Budapest – I was asked to give an introduction to Web services for the telecom industry. And I was able to use most of the same material for the customer presentations in China.
It may sound a little strange to still be giving an introduction since Web services have been around for about 7 or 8 years. But it has really been the business systems folks — the back office systems for billing, inventory management, order management — who have been investigating SOA and Web services. The network management folks (the ones who deliver the calls, troubleshoot the network, and manage the new services) are just now getting started.
WSDL’s unique ability to abstract multiple protocols (IIOP, HTTP, JMS, etc.) and data formats (XML, CDR, ASN.1/BER, fixed format etc.) and categories of software systems (i.e. message queuing, application servers, database management systems, and packaged appications) is a big part of the solution since CORBA is used in most existing telecom network management products, and lots of telco specific formats and protocols are in use.
Maybe because they’ve been using a lot of CORBA, including notification for event handling for switch failure and other types of alerts, I got a lot of questions about performance and the impact of the additional overhead of XML processing. In fact I got this so many times I started to think that another vendor was going around saying that their Web services products didn’t perform very well! In our case we certainly do also see the usual additional overhead involved in sending lots of XML text, but if someone needs it to go faster we just change the configuration to run SOAP over IIOP instead.
As promising as it sounds for telecom network management applications, no one really knows exactly what the definition of an SDP is. TMForum is working on this in its SDF initiative. But there’s also activity in IEEE around NGSN and quite a few other similar initiatives.
What I heard at the conference in Budapest is that the telco carriers are worried about competition from Skype, Google, Yahoo, and other companies delivering innovative new products and services over the Internet. The carriers still have “carrier grade” networks, and if they can open them up using services, perhaps they will be able to attrack some of that innovation. At least that’s what I heard one of them say.
But of course the larger issue is developing and delivering new telecom services such as Voice over IP and TV over IP, TV on cellphones, expanded multimedia delivery to the home, etc. And here is where SOA and Web services can play a key role – especially if we can get them to go fast enough (and I believe we can ;-).