With the World’s economies behaving like roller coasters, maximizing efficiencies and squeezing every last ounce of performance, value and profit from product implementations is crucial in order to remain competitive. The Converged Application Platform has emerged as the most flexible and cost effective solution to meet the demand for “Triple Play” service applications. Optimizing developments by outsourcing hardware platforms and focusing on software value brings further economic benefit. This paper examines both elements and shows how they create a winning combination that can seriously enhance your bottom line.
To go forward it’s helpful to step back for a moment and consider how we got to where we are and realize that change is here to stay.
Technology and Economic Evolution
When we think of the world of communications many descriptors immediately come to mind; high technology, fast paced, innovative, rapid change, adaptive, evolving. The last ten years or so could certainly be described this way but it may surprise you to know that the telecommunications industry of the past was significantly more sedate and even snail‐like by today’s standards. Believe it or not the world of switching and telephone exchanges owes much to an undertaker from Kansas City. Almon Strowger developed the first automated telephone switch out of electromagnets and hat pins and was awarded a patent on his invention in 1891. Strowger’s fundamental design (without the hat pins) ran the core of our networks for the next 80‐100 years! While development and enhancements continued, the last Strowger switches weren’t removed from major networks until the 1990s. Digital switches and exchanges were first introduced in the late 1970s, and the 80s saw the major transition to an all digital network, the same one the majority of calls are carried on today.
So how do we get from here to the world of Converged Application Platforms? Packet Telephony and the< Internet of course. 1996 saw the first enabling standard on the road towards VoIP and convergence – H.323, published by the ITU. The same year we saw Vocaltec’s ‘Internet Phone’ and VoIP was on its way. It’s been 12 years since then but the technology is now well established and the naysayers of the early years have been proved wrong as packet based communications have become well established in the enterprise and the majority of carriers have a VoIP based service to offer. Certain global carriers have even announced planned transitions across their infrastructure to all packet based technologies heralding the revolution to the Next Generation Network.
Industry economics evolved along a similar timeline. With major technological change taking so long and even with the introduction of digital exchanges, competition was light and control lay with a handful of manufacturers. All development was internal with no pressing compelling event to act as a catalyst for change. That was until IP and computer telephony came along and suddenly the worlds of computing and telecommunications began butting heads. Competition began to heat up and the laws of supply and demand came to bear as the demand for new technologies and a downward price curve increased.
A Common Platform Approach
Conventional circuit switched technology was modular in a sense but was delivered in numerous large cabinets, each responsible for a different function. As packet based solutions evolved they followed a similar model albeit in smaller and more economic packaging. With a full solution requiring multiple elements, each requiring its own design teams and often based on differing technologies, the economics were still far from efficient. Reuse and flexibility is the key. If only one could design around a common platform, based on a consistent technology with modularity available at the platform level. One would be able to create a single, chameleon like, element that is capable of being anything or everything required to meet the needs of any given communications solution. What we have just described is a Converged Application Platform. The flexibility and economic advantages of the common platform approach is where the Converged Application Platform derives significant benefit. More on that in a moment; but let’s first address what one can do with a CAP from a technological and feature perspective.
Converged Application Platforms turn a ‘Triple Play’
Converged Application Platforms provide a single box solution for “Triple Play” applications, supporting all the technologies required for telephony, video and data services. A CAP’s common scalable architecture has an unsurpassed breadth of functionality from voice switching and IP routing to enhanced security and firewall services. With so much capability available within a small footprint numerous applications can be served, individually or in numerous logical combinations. Here is just a selection of what a Converged Application Platform can do and the applications it can support:
• Deliver superior‐quality voice, data and video
• High‐definition audio, enabling highfidelity Voice over IP (VoIP)
• Desktop video telephony (peer‐to‐peer) with video conferencing
• Intelligent automated attendant/context‐based call routing
• Data routing/packet forwarding to LAN and WAN
• Firewall and data stream security
• Network Address Translation (NAT) traversal
• QoS management for multiple data traffic classes
• High‐speed Internet and intranet access
• Next‐generation collaboration applications
• Data backup, redundancy and storage
• Stateful packet inspection, security and voice/data encryption with high data rates
• Integrated hardware for popular cryptography algorithms.
• Remote management, diagnosis and provisioning
Convergence Holds the Key
In the high tech industry, products or network elements have tended to be named based on their actual function; Base Station Controller, Home Location Register, Media Gateway Controller, firewall, media router/server to name but a few. A Converged Application Platform, therefore, seems rather generic by comparison. Herein, however, lies its strength. Application Platform couldn’t really be less specific. The core benefits are all related to that seemingly simple word “Converged.” Taken directly from the Merriam‐Webster dictionary, convergence is defined as:
• The act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity.
• The merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole
“The merging of distinct technologies” and “moving toward… uniformity” is what CAPs are all about. Technology, features and specific functionality are all great but the battle is now fought on the field of economics. Those who can harness and leverage the reuse of their own developments linked with strategic partnerships and supplier relationships will win in the long run.
Imagine a solution that requires five distinct elements or blocks of functionality. The classical architectural approach would be to create five different systems each with multiple variants for scalability etc. This could easily evolve into 15‐20 distinct platforms. Each would require similar foundations but would often be created using different technologies. The inefficiencies are endless, multiple chassis, power supplies, backplanes, operating systems, the list goes on and on. Developing each from the ground up at let’s say $10M (a very conservative estimate) per platform would mean a sunk cost of at least $50M before $1 of revenue, let alone profit could be generated. If we were able to
combine or “converge” all the required functionality into a single platform, even if the initial development were 50\% more expensive, that would mean only $15M, showing an overall savings of $35M in development costs alone. When one considers the reduction in logistics and complexities related to manufacturing a single platform rather than five one can easily see how the economic benefits of a converged platform can be felt across the whole organization. Just think how it will benefit support, field service and sparing.
Take One “To Go”
As we have discussed, the value in CAPs comes from the core benefits associated with a reusable platform that can be configured for multiple applications individually or in logical combinations. As the “magic sauce” that creates the flexible application suite is software this is where the nimble, innovative and competitive communication solution provider should invest their precious time and effort. The software still requires an underlying hardware platform and the economic benefits delivered by a CAP can be enhanced further by sourcing one ready to go. Yes, such a platform could be built in house but with the emphasis on an integrated software solution the ROI on internal hardware development is now tenuous at best. “But” we hear you say “Our BOM (Bill of Materials) cost has to be less than the cost of buying a finished unit from a third party.” Mathematically that argument alone may be true but the “make vs. buy” business case is significantly more complex than a simple BOM/Cost comparison.
• Time to market – Competition is tough and if you don’t get to market first somebody else will! First mover advantage is well documented and with typical system development cycles in the range of 12‐18 months can you afford to wait that long when you could buy a readymade CAP off the shelf and get to market in 3 – 6 months?
• Opportunity cost – What else could you be doing with the money you would otherwise spend on internal hardware development? Invest in greater software expertise; improve profitability and shareholder value, more sales and marketing or customer support? Any of these items may prove to be of more benefit to your company than building your own hardware, especially as we have already shown that the value is now in the software.
Converged Application Platforms – The Advantech Solution
Advantech has long understood the advantages of buying “off the shelf” technology and platforms and their customers have been benefiting from Advantech’s innovation and leadership for many years. Recognizing the increased benefits derived from Converged Application Platforms, Advantech released the FWA‐2310E in 2008.
Based on the Intel® EP80579 Integrated Processor with Intel® QuickAssist Technology, the FWA‐2310E’s platform design is extremely cost‐effective, providing telephony, video and data capabilities. A system-on‐a‐chip (SOC) solution the FWA‐2310E runs soft DSP algorithms for voice compression and echo cancellation on analog calls coming in on FXS/FXO interfaces. Using the Intel® Accelerated DSP Solution and Intel® Performance Primitive libraries, DSP algorithms execute directly on the Intel® architecture core with enough capacity for a complete SMB multi‐service business gateway solution.
The SOC also includes integrated security acceleration capabilities allowing Advantech to consolidate what was previously a six chip solution into a single device. In addition, by facilitating E1/T1, Wi‐Fi, Gigabit Ethernet and GPON connectivity, the FWA‐2310E was designed with converged telephony and security applications in mind. It also provides all the enabling hardware required for functions such as voice switching, enterprise routing, firewall and VPN support all in a single, multi‐function device.
It is clear, as this paper has shown, that the industry has changed significantly since the days of Almon Strowger’s “hat pin” switch. Technological advancement has accelerated dramatically and the economic pressures of today’s marketplace require innovative design and procurement approaches to maintain one’s competitive edge.
The advent of the Converged Application Platform and the ability to procure readymade platforms “off the shelf” combine to create the optimum solution to maximize both technological and economic benefits. Advantech, as a seasoned provider of communications solutions, and with products such as the FWA‐2310E is the ideal partner to help create high performance and cost efficient Converged Application Platform solutions.