PARK RIDGE, Ill.The Linux operating system is expected to take a major step toward viability in the telecommunications market Monday (April 8) when MontaVista Software Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) rolls out a "carrier-grade" edition of its Linux-based product.
The software, known as MontaVista Linux CGE (Carrier Grade Edition), is aimed at the large servers used by such telecommunications carriers as Sprint, AT&T and British Telecom. It is the first such product to follow a course set by a coalition of hardware and software vendors that was formed to create a Linux-based specification for carrier-grade applications.
The coalition, the Open Source Development Lab, formed a Carrier Grade Linux Working Group that includes Alcatel, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, MontaVista, Nokia, Red Hat and SuSE. Members hope to create a framework to enable Linux to go head-to-head with Unix, the dominant operating system in carrier-class telecom applications.
"We are positioning our product for early access to an ongoing road map from the Open Source Development Lab," said Glenn Seiler, director of product marketing at MontaVista. "We're confident that it will map with the specifications that come out from the Open Source Development Lab later this year."
Members of the working group called the introduction of new carrier-class software important for the telecommunications industry as well as for proponents of Linux software. Linux, which has built a loyal following among developers because of its open-source nature, is said to offer significant advantages for makers of telecommunications equipment. Proponents say that Linux allows equipment makers to cut their development costs, speed time-to-market and access a broader array of vendors than proprietary operating systems would allow.
Up to now, however, Linux hasn't made a dent in carrier-class applications.
"Not long ago, Linux was barely even considered by telecommunications manufacturers or their customers," said Douglas Kolb, director of marketing for the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL). "It wasn't even part of their vocabulary. They were totally focused on proprietary operating systems."
Greater awareness of Linux and improvements to its robustness have changed the telecommunications industry's attitude toward the open-source system, however. Last summer, MontaVista and Intel began talking to telecommunications equipment makers about creating a Linux-based carrier-grade product. Their efforts were later expanded to include Nokia and IBM. Eventually, the Carrier Grade Working Group announced its formation in January.
"The equipment providers were looking for someone to take a leadership position," Seiler said. "They were also looking for some consensus on a standard flavor of carrier-grade Linux." Although equipment makers are said to be keenly interested in Linux's cost advantages, they also want to ensure that Linux can meet the demand for extraordinarily high availability needed in telecommunications equipment. In some cases, that equipment is expected to have downtimes of less than 5 minutes per year.
That's why many equipment makers are said to be concerned that all new Linux-based carrier-grade distributions meet a standard set of specifications.
"If you look at the Linux distributions as they stand today, there are some inconsistencies between them, and there is a certain level of validation and testing that has not taken place in the code," said Kolb of the Open Source Development Lab. "Carriers are inclined to require very, very intense validation and testing."
Still, equipment makers are said to be driving the move toward Linux. In February, Nokia announced a high-availability carrier-grade server platform, the FlexiFamily, which is built on a Linux operating system.
Linux is expected to be used most prominently in the so-called "control plane" of carrier-grade systems. The control plane is responsible for managing communication traffic through servers and, in certain instances, for routing traffic among various blades of the servers. It's considered critical because, unlike the "data plane," the control plane has little or no hardware redundancy. Therefore, operating systems used in the control plane must have redundant and reliable software mechanisms to enable the equipment to keep working under virtually any conditions.
MontaVista engineers hope that MontaVista Linux CGE will serve as a step in that direction. Built atop the company's earlier high-reliability operating systems, it is expected to maintain alignment with Open Source Development Lab's emerging specification. First shipments of the software will be in late May.
The Carrier Grade Linux Working Group's specification is expected to be published in August.
OSDL executives say they expect the economics and flexibility of Linux to continue to draw interest from makers of carrier-grade equipment. "The capabilities and stability of Linux have improved radically with time," said Kolb of OSDL. "A lot of things have come together to enable Linux to work in this market."
"Up to now, there's been no clear definition of what carrier- grade software is," said Seiler.