March 2, 2007

Cell companies coalesce around open code for high-availability middleware

Author: Tina Gasperson

In January, Motorola announced the formation of the LiMo foundation, the not-quite open source project that will collaborate on a Linux-based ecosystem for mobile applications development. Now, with the launch of the new OpenSAF project, Motorola and friends are moving up to middleware, and moving closer to true open source in the process.The project is based on the Service Availability Forum (SAF) application interface specification. SAF is an industry consortium whose members include Alcatel, MontaVista, Oracle, HP, IBM, Ericsson, Fujitsu, and Motorola. SAF provides its members with hardware specifications and middleware building blocks that function as a management core for all the high-availability resources needed to ensure uninterrupted wireless service.

The purpose of OpenSAF is to develop additional services necessary to deploy and manage middleware applications, and to accelerate the development of SAF specifications by proposing enhancements implemented in the OpenSAF project, according to a press release dated February 28th. Initial OpenSAF member companies include Motorola, Ericsson, and MontaVista.

Motorola's director of technology marketing John Fryer says high availability middleware is a "critical component" for carriers looking for five-nines level reliability. The SAF standards are good ones, but Motorola and other telecoms saw a lack. "The problem you end up with is that these are very complex standards," Fryer says. "They take a lot of time to develop from a theoretical perspective. The solutions that are already out there, including ours, don't encompass the full range of functionality that is required." Because companies are finding their own solutions to the gaps, "the adoption of the SAF standards is in danger of fragmentation," Fryer says.

With the advent of OpenSAF, Motorola and its partners intend to collaborate on the missing pieces and share the code with the world. "We have a complete environment, and an open source project to drive cohesion in the industry," Fryer says. "We've worked to get the major players aligned behind the concept of doing this." Even rival Nokia is "extremely likely" to get on board with the project, says Fryer.

The software that comes out of the project is fully open source, Fryer says, under non-OSI approved terms similar to the BSD license. "Anybody can take the code and use it, put it in commercial products, and build applications on top of it. And unlike GPL code, they don't have to make the code available - unless they change a core element. Enhancements, no." And even though Fryer would love for other telecoms to participate in development of the project, the main goal is to drive adoption. "If they adopt this middleware," he says, "one day they will have to develop a new platform. At that point, because we have the same middleware, we can come in and say, 'don't develop your own, look at buying a standards-based off-the-shelf platform'. It's an opportunity to convert more people."

"The OpenSAF group is backed by a number of the largest players in the
industry," says Dan Kusnetzky, general manager for The Acuity Group. "Broad
adoption of multi-vendor standards is good for suppliers because it can
reduce the cost of development and support."

Fryer calls the new project an "exciting" endeavor. "It's a new thing for Motorola to be moving into an open source project. We have an open source technology group inside the company that's been extremely helpful in guiding us." Fryer expects the project to ramp up rapidly now that the launch has happened. "We expect the first release toward the end of 2007."

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