Bonding With SNMP
Connecting disparate equipment requires SNMP supervision.
The wireless network is a collage of disparate equipment from competing vendors - base station from Vendor A, microwave from Vendor B and switch from Vendor C. Bridging those pieces of proprietary protocols and interfaces is the same "lingua franca" borrowed from the IT world's WANs and LANs. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) enables competitor's equipment to communicate with the element software manager, and in turn, the network-management system.
Today's network equipment is prepared to communicate within a competitor's network infrastructure. Although the interface may be proprietary, the network equipment's home-grown application and stored data file enable it to talk with competitor's equipment.
Interoperability problems occur because the network equipment's proprietary interfaces can't talk to the network-management system. Besides interoperability between competing network-equipment providers, the challenge remains for the network-management-system infrastructure to keep up with the demand of new applications.
SNMP Talk SNMP is emerging as the de facto transmission language between third-party vendors' equipment with proprietary interfaces and the network-management system for interoperability. Contact Closure is SNMP's competitor that is used to communicate information from NEC's 21GTX fault-management system.
"SNMP is another competitive system to Contact Closure," said Chuck Smith, NEC manager of marketing and sales. "Ericsson and Alcatel switches collect Contact Closure information."
SNMP is the translator between a network element with a proprietary interface to a different network-management-system platform such as HP OpenView.
"It can be too hard to understand all of the unique code with proprietary network equipment," said Steve Warwick, Harris director of product strategy. "Your equipment can be from a different manufacturer, but with a common electronic SNMP with a network-management system such as NetBoss, Lucent's (Avaya) Definity network-management system or HP Open View, you could manage disparate pieces of equipment as long as the network management system understands the protocol interface."
Tekelec's wireless-network-management system elements and its diagnostic systems ensure inter-operability through SNMP.
"We go with SNMP since it is the widest acceptable standard," said Dan Bantukul, Tekelec Intelligent network diagnostics division senior marketing manager. "Most of the network management systems talk through SNMP at the lowest level."
Proprietary protocols are translated to SNMP for Avaya's Definity network-management system.
"We have very specific software requirements," said Marge Rance, Avaya director of product marketing. "Our proxy agent converts our proprietary protocol to SNMP for intelligent caching and data-switch configuration."
The Definity network-management system also can run on another platform and will map other vendor's equipment permissions through HP Open View and Tivoli NetView.
"You can see switch, routers and hubs, and manage the network through a Web-based GUI," Rance said.
A key part of SNMP is the Management Information Base (MIB), a data file of information on the network element or piece of equipment. The file has specifications on configuring the equipment to talk with the rest of the network.
"It's a software definition of the hardware uploaded into the network management system," Smith said. "When an object in the piece of the equipment is in trouble, it sends a message to the network-management system."
The MIB is an important part of interoperability in an SNMP environment.
"From the description in the MIB, a generic picture of the equipment is drawn on a computer console," said Warwick. "A standardized MIB descriptor has packet loss recorded in the file. And in a MIB, you know what to ask for on equipment such as a point-to-point radio, which would have MIB files."
Although SNMP is becoming the translator protocol between proprietary interfaces with MIBs, Contact Closure still is resident in many network-management systems.
"It's yesterday's technology, but it's been around longer and a lot of wireless companies use it," Smith said.
"Interoperability is ensured in Contact Closure because the network element transmits messages to other vendor's systems in an ASCII text data stream that can be parsed by a receiving system."
The NEC 21GTX fault-management system collects information from a third-party vendor's multiplexer, microwave, radio, remote switch and base station through Contact Closure and reports it a "manager of managers" in a NOC.
"It sends information up another system and monitors other vendor's equipment using Contact Closure," Smith said.
Software-Driven Network The network element's application provides self-management capabilities. "Applications are being integrated into the products themselves," Warwick said. "The element is a separate piece of software that is developed outside of the physical product. Embedded within it is network-management capability of equipment without other network equipment."
An example is the Starview, which has all of the specifications for equipment with a proprietary interface. However, a service provider that wants to support a multipoint wireless system can integrate the Starview within a Cisco network.
"Each network element has its own management system," Smith said.
The Web-based GUI in Avaya's Definity network-management system, Harris' Netboss or NEC's 21GTX fault-management system is activated through the network equipment's embedded application. The application is a `mini' software file that uploads the equipment's configuration files on a computer network. With a computer console, a network manager in New York can troubleshoot a switch in Boise, ID.
"All you need is a computer console that runs on a LAN," said Warwick. "You pull up your Web page that accesses the network. After entering your user ID and password, you can make changes to a Class 5 switch in Boise."
Interoperable Signaling On the signaling layer, the signal transfer point (STP) is critical for interoperability between various elements in the network.
"STP handles call setup, intranetwork element communication, and hands off the call to another network through SS7 out of band," said Mike Gurley, Alcatel worldwide director of signaling products. Some of Alcatel's STP customers include Bell Atlantic, Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless.
"Internationally, 15 to 18 operators use STPs for secondary functions for interoperability, such as call-screening or alternate routing," said Gurley. "We religiously interoperate with all competing switches and STP products."
The challenges for interoperability in signaling are determining how to transmit the information to various end devices such as a Palm Pilot or fixed phone.
"We're on little islands that rely on SS7 to facilitate exchange of signaling network information to the gatekeeper," he added.
Interoperability for the End Device Software within the network equipment and standardized STP facilitate interoperability. Another critical element is the end device. Lucent Technologies recently forged alliances with Sierra Wireless and Sanyo to align development of its network infrastructure with the end devices.
"Sierra Wireless devices' data speeds are going up to cdma2000," said Joe Daly, Lucent Technologies manager of strategic relationships. "We want to make sure that Sierra Wireless data devices and applications such as e-mail and video align with our infrastructure to push wireless applications into 3G capabilities."
Daly explained that Lucent and Sierra Wireless jointly will develop PCMCIA cards, original equipment modules, modems and appliances that move twice the current data rate.
"With the new electronics in the existing infrastructure, it will be just a matter of changing out the circuit pack in the base station," he said.
Parm Sandhu, Sierra Wireless principal engineer, said that instead of waiting for the networks to be available to test its new applications, Lucent will be building the network-management-system infrastructure.
"We've had problems with inter-operability in the past," he said. "We want to resolve the problems before the products get out to the consumer." He added that Sierra Wireless planned future alliances to drive interoperability.
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