Nortel, IBM bring SOA to unified communications

Nortel Networks Corp. and IBM Corp. are providing a software toolkit and other products that would let companies provide Web services using unified communications equipment. The manufacturers are initially targeting the retail and health-care sectors but will also target telecom carriers and service providers.

Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel plans to offer the toolkit, which is currently in beta testing, by the end of March. Several Nortel products, including Application Server 5200 and Communications Server 2000 IP Multimedia Softswitch, will have Web services versions available at the same time, said Lori McLean, general manager for Nortel’s alliance with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM.

“This is something that will apply to pretty much our entire call centre portfolio,” McLean said, adding the partnership combines Nortel’s communications offerings with IBM’s WebSphere product set and expertise in IT and business processes.

The move is part of Nortel’s Communications Enablement strategy, which includes IBM’s technology to create service-oriented architectures (SOA).

Both IBM and Nortel are using SOA with the aim of letting enterprises and carriers combine communications services such as presence, click-to-connect, location and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

“This is part of a very large collaboration” between Nortel and IBM, said David Epstein, IBM’s director for public sector solutions.

McLean said both vendors will be selling the products and services, and the lead vendor would depend on the customer implementation.

The partnership also includes a testing environment – dubbed Sandbox – to allow customers to test Web services implementations.

One organization using Sandbox is the Mobile Emergency Triage research program, run by the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, which is developing a hand-held clinical decision support system, intended to be used by doctors at the Ottawa-based Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

When assessing patients as part of a triage, doctors and nurses use information from a variety of sources, said Wojtek Michalowski, the Telfer School of Management professor in charge of the MET program. For example, he said, a health-care worker might decide to discharge a patient, or call a specialist, on the basis of information provided by the MET.

The system can work on any operating system, Michalowski said, adding the MET program is working on an iPod version of the software, which is available for PDAs, smart phones, laptop and desktop PCs.

The conventional method of paging a physician is a very crude way of communicating, he said.

“A pager is a very stupid device,” he said. “You call at this number and it displays the number (from which) you called.”

He added Sandbox could be used to improve a pager, providing more communications services such as identifying the most appropriate physician to call and determining a physician’s status.

Combining different communications functions in one device or service usually requires “a tremendous amount of programming,” Epstein said. One of his beta testers, a retail organization, had “a handful of developers” working for six months on adding click-to-call capability on its Web site. Using the Nortel-IBM toolkit, it took one programmer two days to complete the task, Epstein added.

“This partnership allows us to take communications capabilities that were previously [perceived as] black magic in the enterprise, and then expose (them) as services that we can integrate into workflows and business processes,” Epstein said.

Nortel is not the only vendor working on combining communications functions with business processes.

Avaya Inc., a Basking Ridge, N.J.-based telecom equipment manufacturer, is also working on similar initiatives using Web services, said Henry Dewing, Principal Analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

“Avaya has been doing communications-enabled business processes for quite some time now,” he said, adding Nortel “has definitely had a lead” in offering SOA-based communications products.

Nortel recognizes some companies use networking gear from multiple vendors, McLean said, adding Communications Enablement strategy will work not only with Nortel products, but also hardware from different vendors, including San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems Inc.

See also Nortel outlines new strategy for unified data communications

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