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Disrupting the SDP market with Open Source Telco PaaS – An interview with the Restcomm team

December 20, 2011 1 comment

The service delivery platform market is going to see disruptive players in 2012. One of these offerings is Restcomm that offers an open source Telco PaaS solution that will get to version 1.0 in March 2012. I interviewed the director of Cloud Engineering of Telestax, Thomas Quintana, who is responsible for driving Restcomm within the Mobicents community.

What is RestComm?

RestComm is what I like to call a “Web Driven Communications Platform”. In order to understand what I mean it’s useful to have a basic understanding of how RestComm works. When RestComm receives a phone call for example, it calls out to some resource on the web to instruct it on how to handle a call. In turn the resource itself can turn over control of the call to other resources on the web. Hence my description of RestComm.

Who is the target user? 

In developed markets that is an interesting question because the target user has always been web developers but we have noticed that the RestComm instruction set maps nicely as a DSL (Domain Specific Language) on top of development platforms such as Java, Ruby, Python, etc. This in turn has made mobile applications developers and desktop applications developers target user communities as well.

In emerging markets the target users are operators who want to deploy a PaaS (Platform as a Service) and provide services to its customers and SME’s

What is the RestComm Vision?

The RestComm vision is to offer a 100% open source and service provider agnostic web driven communication platform to the open source community. Woah, that’s a mouth full 🙂

What is on the direct roadmap for RestComm?

There are a quite a few goals on the RestComm road map but I will list the ones I think are currently most important:

  • 100% Twilio API compatibility (Available as of ALPHA 2 which will debut in a few of weeks)
  • 100% Tropo API compatibility
  • Monitoring support
  • Web based management interface for easy management
  • Support for other communications networks such as Skype and Google Talk

Will RestComm also support non-REST APIs, e.g. Javascript?

Yes, as a matter of fact most if not all of the Twilio wrappers will work with RestComm with very little effort (possible as of ALPHA 2). Usually all it takes is just pointing the API at your RestComm server.

When will release 1.0 be available?

The RestComm FINAL release is scheduled to be available in March. 

What will be in release 1.0 that is currently not there yet?

We are doing a lot of work on RestComm based on community feedback from early adopters so it’s hard to tell everything that will make it in to the FINAL release but the following are things that will definitely be present.

  • A super set of the Twilio API to support functionality currently not covered by the Twilio API but requested by our development community (e.g. faxing, call leg and conference room recording, etc.).
  • JDBC and MongoDB support (plus it’s very easy to add additional back-ends)
  • Support for any SIP origination/termination provider
  • Support for more international SMS aggregators
  • High Availability support
  • and many more things stay tuned 😉

Below are two features that we would like to have available by the FINAL release but are still investigating.

  • RestComm application Fail-Over support
  • Very large self organizing conference rooms (1000+ participants)

How will RestComm scale? 

This question is a bit difficult to answer because RestComm’s ability to scale is limited only by the infrastructure that it runs on. In order to answer this question I would like us to assume that most of the RestComm deployments will be on private/public clouds with sufficient resources. Now that we have some context RestComm scales horizontally on two layers the RestComm interpreter itself and the media gateways. Each RestComm interpreter can drive tens to hundreds of media gateways providing scaling for media and by placing SIP load-balancers in front of the RestComm applications servers the interpreter itself can be scaled horizontally. We are currently investigation media gateway fail-over where if a RestComm interpreter becomes unavailable the other interpreters in the cluster will take over its media servers and continue executing the RestComm applications.

In order to provide a demonstration on how to accomplish large scale scaling the Mobicents team will publish a paper on how to deploy RestComm on the Amazon EC2 cloud with hundreds of instances once we reach our BETA release in February.

Will there be a GUI management interface?

Yes, we are planning on releasing a web based management interface but we are currently focusing on providing a stable release. 

Will there be a monitoring interface?

JMX and SNMP support are currently available for the Mobicents Sip Servlet Container which RestComm sits on and that is how we monitor RestComm for now. In the future RestComm will provide its own monitoring interfaces.

Will Telestax offer support/SLAs for RestComm?

TeleStax enables Telecommunication Service Providers and Enterprises to create scalable communication applications based on Open Source and Open Standards. Therefore, TeleStax will provide supported versions of the “RestComm Platform for Production” aka RCPP (like JBCP) to its end customers. The support subscription will be for developement as well as production support with flexible SLA’s to suit the requirement’s and demand’s of end customers. For further details contact TeleStax –http://telestax.com/contactus/ 

Mobicents ‘ Restcomm is to Twilio what Eucalyptus is to Amazon

December 10, 2011 3 comments

In recent weeks I had the pleasure to talk to the team behind Mobicents. I have been pleasantly surprised by Restcomm. Restcomm is Twilio for the Private Cloud. Telco 2.0 SaaS for private cloud. Tropo APIs are also on the roadmap. Mobicents is starting a revolution by moving away from telecom standards and moving to the new Cloud telecom standards. Telecom engineers are no longer needed to make enticing value-added services. Any web developer can make telecom apps in minutes and integrate them with Web 2.0 and social networks.

Is Restcomm a threat for Twilio? Quite the contrary. Many larger companies did not want to move to Amazon because of fears of vendor lock-in. Eucalyptus brought a way for public cloud apps to move to a private cloud. Restcomm will allow companies to move their telco apps to the private cloud when they become a large hit. Developers could even start from a private cloud deployment and move apps to Twilio when spikes in demand happen, a.k.a. cloud bursting. In general Twilio is very likely going to get more customers instead of less by having a valid open source alternative.

Mobicents is also undergoing large changes. There has been a shift in direction at Red Hat and the Mobicents team started their own company called Telestax. The company is independent from Red Hat, however it will partner with Red Hat for telecom opportunities involving RHEL and JBoss products.

Creating Telecom Network Apps the Cloud Way: Telephone 2.0!

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Ask a Telecom architect how you create a telecom network application, often dubbed as value-added services. He or she will focus on SIP/SS7 standards, service delivery platforms, etc.

The future of cloud-based telecom network apps, let’s call them tapps, is going a totally different direction. For the former telecom architect they probably like open source solutions like Mobicents that allows you to create SIP-based applications on Java. The Asterisks and other types of VoIP application servers are other alternatives.

However for a new generation of Web-based programmers this is all too complex. These are the programmers that like Javascript, Ajax, JSON,  PHP, Ruby, etc.

The majority of them will be fine with whatever Twilio or Tropo offer via easy to use REST APIs or embedded in their favorite scripting language. Which cloud-based application needs more than calling, SMS, answering the phone, getting feedback from the user, telling the use what to do, putting multiple users in a conference, transcribing what the user does, forwarding a call, etc.? 95% of the functionality is covered with a handful of REST APIs.

For business developers that are more used to Java, they can also use Java APIs to access for instance Twilio. To be able to cheaply launch an application and scale it afterwards they could deploy it on Google App Engine. A new alternative has just come around from Amazon: Elastic Beanstalk. A developer can write their app and deploy it on Beanstalk. They no longer have to worry about monitoring, scaling, opening firewalls, etc.

Other alternatives are to extend Cloud-ready telecom applications via plug-ins. An example here could be Twilio’s OpenVBX in which you can easily add new plug-ins.

The conclusion is that 2011 will be the year in which Web 2.0 and the Cloud meet the Telephone 2.0. However the Telephone 2.0 will unlikely pass through Bluevia and other operator initiatives given the fact that they are running about two years late and are very scattered, slow-moving initiatives.

Operators should embrace the new reality and try to help these new applications find new users. The Appstore brought a new eco-system to life. Millions of small and medium-sized Telephone 2.0 applications are waiting to be discovered by Billions of users. Remember that not everybody can pay an expensive mobile with an expensive data plan. However there are billions that can pay for cheap call and SMS-based applications. We need to help the billions find those tapps that are useful to them…

Marketing’s and IT’s loss of power

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

In Telco 1.0, “marketing” decides what customers want and “IT/Network operations” will take 12 months to roll out the new service.

In Telco 2.0, the marketing department no longer decides what customers want and IT/Network operations have 3 months to roll out hundreds of new services.

Impossible?  What is Telco 2.0?

Telco 2.0 is the age where Internet technologies and business ideas meet the telecom world. What are these new ideas?

1. The customer is always right

No group of marketing experts is better able to predict what customers want then the customers themselves. In the dotcom world, customers are in control. They get an avelanche of services and options and via other people’s rating, comments and collective intelligence are able to decide what best suits them. Instead of launching one new release every 6 months, dotcoms launch new incremental features on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. Often several alternatives for the customer to pick from. It is the customer that decides what is right for them and what can be killed quickly due to lack of interest.

2. Give the customer control

If the customer knows what they want then they should be able to get it and if it is not available build it themselves. The explosion of Appstore apps shows that different customers like different things. In the next 12 months we will see VAS stores and build your own VAS designers allowing users to build or configure their own value-added services.

3. Allow the customer to make money

Whoever builds a great VAS should also see an abundant reward for it. High revenue shares for innovative thinkers are becoming the trend. Consumers selling solutions to consumers is no longer an exception.

4. Be the enabler instead of the break

Trying to stop innovation is useless. The Skype’s, Google Voice’s, Twilio´s, Tropo´s, Ribbit’s, etc. are unstoppable. Join the enemy and enable people to use your assets. Otherwise they will find ways around your assets, sooner than later. Think about what happened to location-based services…

5. Think Global and Volume

Local solutions are likely to be copied by others. This is a winner takes it all market. Think global. If you are not global, find a global partner and non-competing other operators and join hands. The money is in the volume. With 1M VAS people are likely to communicate more than before.

6. Analog dollars for digital pennies

The “Free economy” is changing more than one existing business model. Don’t think that because in the circuit world you can charge 15 cents/message that in the IP world you can charge the same. The music labels have found out that if you keep on charging a high price, piracy will rule. Does it mean that everything has to be free or losses are guaranteed? No, also not. However history has shown that technology (r)evolutions can destruct a business model without replacing it with an equal lucrative one:  think stamps and emails. The new economic rules dictate that scale and long tail attrack money. Google changed the ad industry from high priced TV ads to low priced adwords. However since they fully automated the process, the scale is enormous and so are the gains. So to be successful in the new telco 2.0 world, you need to offer thousands of services and make money with volume not with individual services. Who better can dominate a world for nano payment then the world leader of micro payments a.k.a. billing and charging.

The new role of marketing

Marketing will no longer be about evaluating which services customers might like and at what price.

Instead the focus will be on finding the right enablers for customers to build and configure the services they want. Afterwards these services can be offered on an open marketplace for others to buy and sell them.

Listen to what customers say on social networks.

Use number crunching on large volumes of data to understand hidden trends.

The new role of IT and operations

A telecom architecture is one of the most complex architectures to explain to non-telecom experts. A new generation of dotcoms are coming up with alternative architectures that separate execution from data and application logic. If you don´t know Google App Engine, take a look how applications are deployed onto a “virtual” application server and data is stored in a “virtual” database. Exactly this concept is what is needed for the next generation of telco services. You deploy telco apps on to a “virtual” service delivery framework, with access to telco assets via APIs and to unified subscriber data in a “virtual” datastore. IT should be the enabler of launching services and not the one that focus on building the services.

Complex telecom net apps made easy

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Too many people in the telecom industry are still discussing which API is the best: Parlay, JAIN SLEE, Sip Servlets, GSMA OpenAPI, etc.

The Web 2.0 world is moving away from all these APIs to create telecom network applications a.k.a. Net Apps. If you want to see easy APIs to create Net Apps then look at Twilio or Tropo.

However even these APIs are too complex for some people. In this case you can use graphical drag-and-drop environments like for instance QuickFuseApps. You can also opt for flash modules that give you all the functionality you need. Ribbit has some nice ones.

Also on the phone side, drag-and-drop is coming on strong. Google´s App Inventor for Android is a good example.

What does this mean? More and more developers and end-users will be able to create Net Apps themselves. These Net Apps will quickly become complex applications that will often bridge the gap between mobile devices and server & cloud solutions. They will very likely also span every aspect of daily life, e.g. social networking, business, entertainment, etc.

What does this mean for an operator? All the effort that is now put into creating attractive services will no longer be useful. A one-hundred person marketing team can not launch more and better services than a one-million net app creators community.  So instead of focusing on finding and developing the next killer app, operators should focus on two aspects:

  1. Making sure all the building blocks are in place for the net app creators community to be productive.
  2. Connecting end-users with the proceedings of the net app creators community. In other words: make sure people find the right net apps.

 The stakes are high because this is a winner takes-it-all game. Speed, easy of use, direct community feedback will be key. What are you waiting for?

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