It's probably a safe bet that most telecom CIOs rank service availability at or near their number one priority when designing a telecommunications network or evaluating a potential deployment solution. In fact, a very high level of availability, on the order of five 9's (99.999%), is considered a necessary condition for telecommunication hardware and software solutions that will handle subscriber traffic. To see why, we need to have a quick look at the history of the industry.
For many years, the telecommunications industry has set the standard for reliability requirements in computing. Due to a number of factors, including a regulatory system that demands very high levels of availability and a business model that punishes downtime in providers' networks, the industry has had a big incentive to pioneer some of the most advanced hardware and software availability deployments in the world. These breakthroughs have led to adoption of telecommunications high availability (HA) technology in a number of different business sectors. In particular, this growing interest can be seen in the increasing adoption of Service Availability Forum (SA Forum) specifications by large players in the Military/Aerospace and Finance and Banking industries. This interest manifests itself in the requirements documents and requests for information that those in frontline sales positions see every day. More and more, support of SA Forum specifications for manageability and HA are table stakes for an opportunity to win large deals in these new markets.
The shift to a more "telco-centered" approach to high availability, characterized by services that ensure uptime and seamless business continuity across failures, such as those described in the SA Forum specifications, has gone hand in hand with a move toward commercially available hardware and software. This type of hardware and software is often referred to by the acronym COTS (commercial off the shelf), and as demand grows among large Network Equipment Providers (NEPs) and Carriers for COTS gear, the demand for the HA technology to support these deployments with commercially available software that is standards-based grows as well. This is due in large measure to the benefits that made COTS gear appealing to the telecom industry in the first place: reduced risk as well as lower costs for integration, testing and R&D.
Given the past evolution of availability over time, it seems more likely than not that just as the telecom market has led the way on standards-based solutions and the move to COTs hardware and software, it will also pave the way for a move toward open standards in sectors like Mil/Aero and banking. Former OpenSAF Foundation President Alan Meyer stated recently regarding Ericsson's adoption of SA Forum for its commercial products, "Ericsson's commitment to OpenSAF in its commercial products is significant. Multiple other companies are also contributing to the OpenSAF code base as well as using OpenSAF for commercial developments. Like Ericsson, many of these applications are in communication networks, and we anticipate further public success stories in the future." This and other recent market developments, such as the increasing number of SA Forum applications and deployments and important design wins in next-generation networks that incorporate SA Forum specifications, all point toward the growing importance of open SA Forum based solutions by companies in a wide variety of verticals from the Military to Finance and Banking as well as the communications industry.
The facts and trends we see in the marketplace leave little doubt that this trend toward COTS and wider adoption of SA Forum specifications will continue into new markets beyond telecom. The question then becomes not "if" but "when" this transition will take place.
Joshua Grossman is a member of the SA Forum and Principal Product Manager at Oracle Corporation in the Netra Systems Business Unit.