Carrier-Grade Linux Is Coming Up - InformationWeek

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2/10/2005
04:15 PM
Paul Travis
Paul Travis
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Carrier-Grade Linux Is Coming Up

Specifications aim to improve and enhance the open-source operating system to meet the strict requirements of the telecom industry

The Open Source Development Labs, the home base for efforts to enhance the capabilities of Linux, last week introduced a new set of specifications to speed the deployment of the open-source operating system in the demanding telecommunications sector. Supporters believe they can improve and enhance Linux to meet the telecom industry's rigorous requirements for availability and reliability, which are much higher than most enterprise data centers.

The growth of IP-based voice and data systems, the move to commercial, off-the-shelf hardware, and the desire for lower-cost options has made Linux more feasible as an operating system for telecom network equipment. But first it has to be capable of providing five or six nines of availability and a number of other crucial features to ensure that communications networks almost never go down. Five nines, or 99.999%, means a system is down no more than five minutes and 26 seconds a year; six nines, or 99.9999%, means it's down no more than 30 seconds a year.

OSDL formed the Carrier-Grade Linux, or CGL, working group in 2002 and has issued several sets of specifications that outline the requirements that Linux must meet to serve as a telecom-industry operating system. The specs issued last week are version 3.0 and focus on several key areas: providing at least 99.999% availability, with no downtime for systems maintenance and expansion; supporting remote management using existing management tools and standards; and providing better performance and the ability to work in high-availability clusters to eliminate any single point of failure in the hardware or software. CGL also must support modular, commercial hardware and the hot-swapping of components such as blades, as well as comply with a variety of existing standards.

Several software companies already distribute versions of CGL that comply with earlier specifications, including Connectiva, MontaVista Software, Novell, Red Hat, Timesys, Turbolinux, and Wind River. And a variety of carriers and equipment vendors are beginning to deliver products based on CGL, including Agilent UK, Alcatel, Cisco Systems, Datang, Deutsche Telekom, Ericsson, Fujitsu, NEC, Nokia, NTT, Samsung, and Siemens, OSDL says.

"It's being used in media gateways, in voice-over-IP routers, and a variety of other products," says Andy Wilson, business-development manager for open-source technology at Intel, which is active in the development of CGL. "Maybe someday you'll see central-office switches using Linux." That day is some time off, but eventually Linux will change how the telecom industry buys technology, Wilson says. "When you combine a freely available open-source OS with high-availability middleware and database applications and industry-standard commodity hardware, it's a powerful story."

Hewlett-Packard uses CGL to build products and platforms for the telecom industry, including signaling systems and media servers that were once built on HP-UX, the company's version of Unix. "There isn't a single large network equipment provider in the United States, Europe, Japan, or China that isn't building their next-generation product platform on Linux," says Bernard Marclay, worldwide Linux telecommunications manager at HP.

MontaVista Software has released several versions of CGL that many network-equipment vendors use to develop products, including 10 "tier-one" vendors, says Bob Monkman, senior manager of product marketing at MontaVista. "Most are in the infancy of converting their proprietary systems to Linux," he says. The wireless industry has been aggressive in deploying Linux-based products in its infrastructure, he says, and the capabilities of the worldwide open-source Linux development community to quickly develop and deploy new features and correct problems makes it inevitable that other equipment makers will follow suit. "You're almost at a disadvantage if you stay with proprietary systems," Monkman says. "You can't move as fast."

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