Nortel emphasises merging of IT, communications

Nortel is pursuing development of communications-enabled applications, which combine IT and communications in new application types, and would like to see standards set to provide consistent behaviours.

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Nortel is pursuing development of communications-enabled applications, which combine IT and communications in new application types, and would like to see standards set to provide consistent behaviours.

Describing the merging of IT and communications as two large tectonic plates coming together, Peter Carbone, Nortel vice president of SOA, detailed Tuesday multiple examples of applications that merge different capabilities and noted new trends in how people are using applications.

Speaking at the OASIS Open Standards 2008 Symposium in California, Carbone stressed the changes enabled by communications-enabled applications. "The key here is that it's actually turning communications into a horizontal capability that's actually usable," Carbone said.

He described as one example an application deployed in Europe, called a "Vulnerable Worker" system. In this application, social workers might have to go into a dangerous part of town all alone. The application mashes up information about the worker's schedule and can track the worker to a cell phone location; the worker can tell the supervisor they are ready to enter the situation and that if they are not heard from in a certain amount of time, to launch an emergency response.

In another example, Nortel has deployed a hospital system in which technologies like wireless communications are used to alert doctors about emergency situations instead of having to use the hospital's public address system. Skills-based routing is incorporated, and stress is lessened because doctors can get pre-briefed on situations.

"What the hospitals find is that the stress level in the hospital goes way, way down because they're not broadcasting these disasters publicly, which everyone can hear," said Carbone.

But standards are needed in communications-enabled applications to enable component services to provide consistent behaviours in performance and security, Carbone said.

"Essentially, when you put a service together, people want service level agreements so they can predictably know what's going to happen, and by having various different components coming together that aren't exactly the same, you do have to figure out some way for them to come together in a coherent way," Carbone said.

At Nortel, the company has seen a convergence around a package-based infrastructure as well as the emergence of unified communications. Nortel tries to simplify the application experience so users get an equivalent capability regardless of what type of system is being used to access and application, such as a PDA or laptop.

Also at the event, officials from Oracle and SAP touted mashups. SOA and mashups can play together because SOA exposes legacy applications as information sources while mashups can access these sources, said Rakesh Saha, a member of the technical staff for Oracle Fusion middleware.

SAP researcher Shel Finkelstein also cited mashup benefits. "For mashups today, the main thing that you're getting is capabilities for data aggregation," he said. Server-centric approaches to mashups are emerging via companies like WSO2 and JackBe, he pointed out.

Finkelstein noted a SAP research project, Enterprise Service Composition Platform (ESCP), pronounced "escape." It is intended to address cross-tier compositional applications. Such aspects as user experience, data and service management, and business logic are addressed.

The platform uses dynamic languages and metadata, enabling flexible optimisation.

In other activity at the conference, officials from several companies including IBM, SAP, and Software AG, stressed their support of OASIS Service Component Architecture (SCA) and Service Data Objects (SDO) specifications.

SCA is intended to help organisations design and transform IT assets into reusable services that can be rapidly assembled to meet changing business requirements. SDO enables programmers to uniformly access and manipulate data from heterogeneous sources, such as databases and Web services.

OASIS this week also launched an initiative to optimise SOA for telecommunications. The OASIS Telecommunications Services Member Section (OASIS Telecom) will work toward a business model to make telecommunications services more intelligent, deployable, and easy to consume, OASIS said.

"We recognise there are gaps that prevent today's SOA standards from delivering the complete integration and interoperability that telecommunications providers need," said Abbie Barbir, co-chair of the OASIS Telecom Steering Committee, in a statement released by OASIS. "The most effective way to bridge these gaps is a cooperative effort that brings the expertise of telecommunications, IT, and standards bodies together within the organisation that is responsible for defining core SOA standards."

Through new technical committees, OASIS will seek to optimise the Web services stack for the telecommunications industry and develop data models to enable seamless exchange of information between networks and the network and application domains. OASIS already oversees Web services standards like WS-Security as well as SOA-Reference Model. Companies like BEA Systems, IBM, and Oracle are backing the initiative.

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