As most of you have heard by now, the TeleManagement Forum has acquired the IPsphere Forum (IPSF). The TM Forum said it will integrate the IPsphere Framework into its Service Delivery Framework program, creating a pre-commercial test bed for pilot programs and multivendor interoperability. The TM Forum’s Service Delivery Framework focuses on enabling control of service lifecycle management across all execution environments, allowing flexibility in binding services with product catalogs.
That’s quite a mouthful. Whether the market swallows what the IPSF (and now TMF) is proposing will depend on fidelity to the core aims of the IPSF and delivering something as market-worthy as what is on the drawing board.
Full disclosure, we have consulted with some of the companies at the heart of the IPSF, and this is one joining-forces exercise with which we couldn’t agree more. We saw essential synergies between the work of the IPSF and that of the TM Forum-the world’s most important standards body and consortium when it comes to the operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS) that are part and parcel of making the IPSF’s vision a reality. For the TM Forum, its acquisition of the IPSF is a logical next step in not only providing the technological foundation from which all good services spring but now directly shaping the most innovative mechanism yet conceived for delivering them.
Full disclosure again, we count some great friends in this industry including Debbie Burkett, Susana Schwartz, Rob Rich and Jim Warner among the ranks of the TM Forum. Given the technological mastery and business savvy they and their colleagues bring to the table, I’m confident they can assimilate this acquisition and deliver one of the most fervently hoped-for impacts of the IPSF: The creation of a new profitability model to accelerate the deployment of IP networks and services. (And the corollary: To restart IP deployments that were launched to great fanfare but stalled under the weight of capex, opex and cold market reality.)
I know they can tackle this challenge, but let’s head down to the field to size up who and what they are trying to tackle.
The IPSF was launched by Juniper and several carriers including BT, France Telecom and Telstra. To this day some will cynically tell you it was one of the most ingenious plans in history by a network equipment manufacturer to sell more boxes. Indeed, while other major hardware players such as Cisco were briefly/tangentially involved in the early days of the IPSF, those were token appearances and the “token,” if you will, always seemed to come back around this industry ring to rest with Juniper. Yet the IPSF has evolved into something much larger and more industry-beneficial: A group of carriers and vendors working together to create the world’s first QoS-guaranteed global trading floor for the delivery of IP services. And today’s roster of IPSF members has now grown to resemble something of a who’s who of the world’s service providers and technology vendors.
One of the first objectives of the IPSF was to enable carriers to deliver any service over any network. That mirrored the objectives of the IP multimedia subsystem (IMS), an architectural framework for integrating the Internet with mobile devices. IMS requires several overlapping technologies to deliver services across wired and wireless networks, and since IMS was conceived it has become easier to access content through systems that fall outside the purview of traditional wireless and wireline providers. Reviews of IMS in actual practice have ranged all the way from bad to worse, and since many came to view the new industry equation as “IPSF = IMS,” confidence in the IPSF plummeted.
Thus the “quiet period” cited by market watchers during which the IPSF retooled and refocused on a ad¬dressing a number of crucial issues facing service provid¬ers as they move to an all-IP infrastructure. Chief among them: “We learned our lesson with the PSTN and we’re not going to make the same mistake with IP.” Service providers invested billions building out their circuit-switched networks and were forced to open them to all competitors in exchange for what they consider negligible compensation. They watched traffic skyrocket as today millions of subscribers download everything from high-bandwidth business applications to music and video. In their view, the content providers are the ones making all the money while they are the ones who built and are maintaining the highway over which those content companies are driving revenues. Through the IPSF the carriers are trying to change the game: To gain the ability to deliver global IP services without each having to build out all of its own IP infrastructure. Managing (but in the long run, eliminating the need for) today’s overlay-upon-overlay networks for each new service. Managing it all with a service management system (SMS) that tracks the services across multiple networks, managing and charging for access to those services. And managing unbundled network element (UNE) processes, as well as best practices in basic inventory/network resource management, not only between carrier trading partners but also inside each carrier’s own access network.
The IPsphere Framework is built on service-oriented architecture (SOA, pronounced “so-ah”) and Web Services, creating loosely coupled abstractions that can be used to combine network resources in various ways and deliver a rich spectrum of services. It defines a business layer that automates offer, purchase and provisioning of service components among multiple stakeholders while supporting things like standardized registration and discovery processes and payments for resource usage. Let’s say I want to sell CPU, or storage, or any resource needed to deliver some piece of the IP services puzzle. Or maybe I have plenty of my own network capacity to support current customer requirements, but due to a big service promotion I’m expecting a Q4 business surge, so I need to shop for additional capacity from my trading partners. The IPsphere Framework provides an automated mechanism for the free flow of offers, bids and resources to make it happen.
Beyond the technology and cutting through industry and organizational politics, which services, exactly, are we talking about? Well, the IPSF’s first three Use Cases were multi-carrier VPN, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) and IPTV/VOD, and the IPSF has been reviewing others including content distribution, security/au¬thentication and software as a service (SaaS), albeit over a dedicated connection.
If the TM Forum did not already have its hands full with its own technology and member growth initiatives, it certainly does now with the acquisition of the IPSF. I’m looking forward to watching the TM Forum buckle up its collective chinstrap and make the tackle. Game on!