Bell Labs grapples with VOIP, open source

Bell Labs grapples with VOIP, open source

Voice over IP (VOIP) and open source technology hold great promise for cost savings, but also threaten traditional ways of doing business. Rather than shy away from the challenges that these disruptive technologies represent, Bell Laboratories, the renowned R&D (research and development) arm of Lucent Technologies Inc. in Murray Hill, New Jersey, is attempting to bring them into the mainstream.

The R&D unit is working on methodologies and processes required to use open source components without compromising on carrier grade capability, so that it can dramatically reduce the cost of developing new telecommunications platforms, according to Jeffrey Jaffe, president of research and advanced technologies at Bell Labs.

During a recent visit to Bangalore, India, where Bell Laboratories opened a research center in December, Jaffe spoke to the John Ribeiro on some of the technologies Bell Laboratories is working on, the lab's research strategy, its distributed model for R&D spanning four countries and other issues. Below is an edited version of the interview.

Ribeiro: What are the potentially disruptive technologies that Bell Labs is working on ?

Jaffe: One of the areas that we are very focused on is what I call carrier-grade voice-over-IP. I am actually concerned that as the world moves there, some of the traditional things that we expect in our public switched networks, such as quality, reliability, performance and security, need to be preserved.

We have a collection of projects that basically have the intent to give you the best of the IP world but also the traditional carrier grade that you have in the telephony world, and that merger is I think absolutely disruptive, and will provide tremendous value to the future. Some of that work is going to be done in the Bell Labs research center in Bangalore, because a piece of that work is building operational support systems for the IP world. If you look at how the IP world developed, it was a little bit chaotic. The kind of operational support, network management, monitoring, performance understanding, fault detection -- all that you have in the telephony network -- never came to the IP network. So the fundamental topic of research is to put all those things into the IP network, to make it carrier grade.

Ribeiro: What else is cooking in the labs?

Jaffe: Another thing that I think is very interesting and very important is not in the products that we develop, but in the methodology that we develop the products. Open source is very prevalent in the desktop, (and) Web servers, but for telecommunications systems, because of the carrier grade requirement, open source classically has been less important. We are exploring how do we get the carrier grade capability in open source, so that we can dramatically reduce the cost of developing new telecommunications platforms.

Ribeiro: What are the challenges in using open source?

Jaffe: A lot of the challenges have to do with testing. The promise of open source is that much of the componentry comes from the industry rather than develop it yourself. But when code comes in from the industry, developed with unclear software technology processes, not clear whether it was rigorously tested, and then you stick it all together and just hope that it works, it is not clear that that is a big savings. So coming up with new processes and technologies, so that we can bring up open source to be able to be at a level of something that you had planned and done yourself, is a nontrivial problem in software methodology.

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