Telecom providers are competing tooth and nail to provide consumer and business customers with the latest and greatest value-added services. This smorgasbord of offerings includes everything from ring-tone downloads to hosted messaging, accounting, and other business services. An SOA makes perfect sense in this have-it-your-way environment because it enables providers to cobble together new offerings with those of third parties and integrate them quickly with their internal, mainframe-based billing, provisioning, and other support systems.
That’s exactly the approach British Telecom (BT) wanted to take in serving its SMB broadband customers.
“SMB customers come to us for broadband access first,” says Norman Street, head of Internet applications and technology at BT Retail. “But the scenario is that as they become more savvy and the Internet becomes more integral to their business they’ll eventually start moving business processes online in an ASP model.”
The hosted scenario is especially appropriate for businesses with fewer than 100 employees because oftentimes these organizations lack sufficient support services or suffer from understaffed IT departments. “We were looking to develop some of these service offerings in-house but also bundle them with third-party applications and mobile products,” Street says.
To compete effectively, BT needed to be able to quickly test new services in the market. If a service proved profitable, it would have to scale quickly. If it didn’t, BT had to be able to decommission the service and replace it with another without a lot of integration effort. BT was also looking to allow customers to manage their own subscribed services online through a Web-based interface.
It was clear that BT’s current integration model couldn’t support such a fast-paced scenario. “We were using a typical spoke model for integrating services with our back-end systems. We really needed to reduce the time and cost of integration and become a lot more agile,” Street says.
After looking into several alternatives, BT quickly concluded that it needed an SOA. BEA Systems had supplied BT with integration technologies in the past, but for this project, BT decided to go with Microsoft’s CSF (Connected Services Framework), an SOA-based service-delivery platform that functions as an extension of Microsoft BizTalk Server, SQL Server, and Windows Server 2003.
CSF provides tools and components geared specifically to the needs of service providers looking to bundle services for a variety of devices, such as PCs, PDAs, and mobile phones, and to quickly plug them in to their back-end business and operational support systems. These include a number of adapters that hook into existing BSS (business support system) and OSS (operation support system) applications and expose them as Web services. It also includes a UDDI/WDSL service directory and tools and standards for defining quality of service, managing identities using Active Directory and Microsoft Identity Integration Server 2003, and managing other service deployment and delivery functions.