Do we really want to come to the inevitable truth that the future is not what we want it to be? The thought of knowing what lies ahead is truly a "drug." Innovation has come in various forms since the early 1600’s with the Pascaline machine for calculation to the first programmable computer, Z1 by Konrad Zuse in 1938. It has then been followed by the implementation of artificial intelligence machines like the "Mechanical Turk," speech recognition, and mobile robotics. The force of innovation has inevitably taken over smart devices, mobile communications, and today's disruptive madness, "cloud computing."
In the recent January 2012 article of Scientific American Magazine titled, "How to Predict the Future of Technology," David Pogue explained that the danger of predicting technology lies in predicting things that cannot be done or will never work. That's why one of the first rules of technology prediction is to focus predictions on things that will come to pass, not about things that won't. He added, "History is going to repeat itself…. certain trends are virtually inviolable."
Can we then predict what lies ahead for the service delivery platform?
Doc, are you telling me that you built a time machine…?
Since the late 1990’s, service delivery certainly has evolved, as we move away from the absolute dumb terminal service and logic-heavy user PC. The birth of the application server has changed the service delivery framework into a more advanced multi-tiered architecture containing an object-oriented programming model, abstraction of database access, resource clustering, networking, fail-over and high-availability services. To service providers, the service delivery platform refers to a combination of various IT and telecom components that interconnects user access and the provider content or resources, crossing the boundary of network and technology. It's all about providing the best service to access the content.
To truly harness the power of service delivery architecture, the necessary cost and resources are usually massive, requiring system interoperability and convergence, design and implementation decisions, operational engineering and software development --- in short, it's not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, in the decade after the year 2000, the market is still filled with proprietary hardware and software systems. Most vendors are implementing infrastructure in silos to build the best of breed software, network services, and purpose-built hardware. These best of breed systems can be complex and expensive. They are closed and proprietary in nature, which inhibits the flexibility to manipulate more than what the system was initially built for.
If we are to predict what the next generation service delivery platform will look like, are we then coming to the demise of best of breed, proprietary systems?
It's time for us to unveil the facts. For service (provider) organizations everywhere, the key focuses are on new revenue generation, delivering new services as effective and quickly as possible at scale. To enable these operations, this means the exposure of the application, network, and service creation framework to the open community. An open source system and the reusing of components can help to turn a proprietary system around and create a service (framework) infrastructure that is faster and cheaper in delivering those services. It can spur innovation, customization, and scale the "brain-load" across much wider resources, either internal or external.
What are the ground rules to high quality, rapid and scalable service delivery? I would say take a look at what service organizations need each minute of their day:
1. An open service framework (protocol) to allow flexibility in optimizing and customizing the service functions and demands
2. Predictable performance of those services, without disrupting the current production flow and negatively impacting the current service level
3. Programmability with useful, widely available APIs to develop the needed functions and services
So, where are they? We'll observe what Alan Kay, one of the early pioneers in object-oriented programming, said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
And that's exactly what Brocade did. Brocade innovates with the OpenScript Engine, a powerful application service manipulation engine based on the widely used and open Perl programming language. The OpenScript engine allows anyone to easily manipulate data traffic in real time and intelligently predicts the impact before the particular script goes live in the network. The OpenScript programming environment combines the flexibility of Perl with a series of extensible software APIs that control the application delivery platform. The scripting engine enables service providers to create scripts that are called based on IP, TCP, UDP, or HTTP events to manipulate packets and make custom forwarding decisions. For example, a simple script could perform load balancing to different servers based on a URL pattern match in the HTTP request. The programming language "Perl" was chosen because it is so open and modular, which allows programmatic functions to be created easily. Included with Perl is CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive Network), which provides the largest collection of software extensions in the world. As a plus, it's also free, making it cost-efficient for service organizations.
Another ground rule is to make your service delivery deterministic. So, the innovative thing to do is to determine how many connections can be served with the injected scripts before this script is even in production. This eliminates the guess work and risk of live testing. Quite a revolutionary idea, isn't it?
Furthermore, you can configure a script profile to define the script memory allocation, the debugging flags, and the watchdog reset timer. In other words, you can specifically predict the script behavior, the impact in the network, and the performance bounds even before you execute it for your live customers.
The Brocade OpenScript Predictor
For every open environment, you need a venue or channel to foster innovative creation. Apple has iOS Dev Center and Brocade has the OpenScript Community. The OpenScript community facilitates collaboration and discussion amongst network and application professionals around the world. It serves also as a platform where these professionals can contribute their scripts and share openly. Brocade is taking the OpenScript engine to the social networking space.
The Brocade OpenScript Community
So, coming back to the question again, what does the future service delivery platform look like? Well, OpenScript engine really comes close to hitting those ground rules. But, you'll be the judge of it. Tell us what you think.