Converged Application Platforms Enhance Your Bottom Line
Converged Application Platforms – Enhance your
bottom line; take one “to go”
With the World’s economies behaving like roller coasters, maximizing efficiencies and squeezing every
last ounce of performance, value and profit from product implementations is crucial in order to remain
competitive. The Converged Application Platform has emerged as the most flexible and cost effective
solution to meet the demand for “Triple Play” service applications. Optimizing developments by
outsourcing hardware platforms and focusing on software value brings further economic benefit. This
paper examines both elements and shows how they create a winning combination that can seriously
enhance your bottom line.
To go forward it’s helpful to step back for a moment and consider how we got to where we are and
realize that change is here to stay.
Technology and Economic Evolution
When we think of the world of communications many descriptors immediately come to mind; high
technology, fast paced, innovative, rapid change, adaptive, evolving. The last ten years or so could
certainly be described this way but it may surprise you to know that the telecommunications industry of
the past was significantly more sedate and even snail‐like by today’s standards. Believe it or not the
world of switching and telephone exchanges owes much to an undertaker from Kansas City. Almon
Strowger developed the first automated telephone switch out of electromagnets and hat pins and was
awarded a patent on his invention in 1891. Strowger’s fundamental design (without the hat pins) ran the
core of our networks for the next 80‐100 years! While development and enhancements continued, the
last Strowger switches weren’t removed from major networks until the 1990s. Digital switches and
exchanges were first introduced in the late 1970s, and the 80s saw the major transition to an all digital
network, the same one the majority of calls are carried on today.
So how do we get from here to the world of Converged Application Platforms? Packet Telephony and the
Internet of course. 1996 saw the first enabling standard on the road towards VoIP and convergence –
H.323, published by the ITU. The same year we saw Vocaltec’s ‘Internet Phone’ and VoIP was on its way.
It’s been 12 years since then but the technology is now well established and the naysayers of the early
years have been proved wrong as packet based communications have become well established in the
enterprise and the majority of carriers have a VoIP based service to offer. Certain global carriers have
even announced planned transitions across their infrastructure to all packet based technologies
heralding the revolution to the Next Generation Network.
Industry economics evolved along a similar timeline. With major technological change taking so long and
even with the introduction of digital exchanges, competition was light and control lay with a handful of
manufacturers. All development was internal with no pressing compelling event to act as a catalyst for
change. That was until IP and computer telephony came along and suddenly the worlds of computing
and telecommunications began butting heads. Competition began to heat up and the laws of supply and
demand came to bear as the demand for new technologies and a downward price curve increased.
A Common Platform Approach
Conventional circuit switched technology was modular in a sense but was delivered in numerous large
cabinets, each responsible for a different function. As packet based solutions evolved they followed a
similar model albeit in smaller and more economic packaging. With a full solution requiring multiple
elements, each requiring its own design teams and often based on differing technologies, the economics
were still far from efficient. Reuse and flexibility is the key. If only one could design around a common
platform, based on a consistent technology with modularity available at the platform level. One would
be able to create a single, chameleon like, element that is capable of being anything or everything
required to meet the needs of any given communications solution. What we have just described is a
Converged Application Platform.
The flexibility and economic advantages of the common platform approach is where the Converged
Application Platform derives significant benefit. More on that in a moment; but let’s first address what
one can do with a CAP from a technological and feature perspective.
Converged Application Platforms turn a ‘Triple Play’
Converged Application Platforms provide a single box solution for “Triple Play” applications, supporting
all the technologies required for telephony, video and data services. A CAP’s common scalable
architecture has an unsurpassed breadth of functionality from voice switching and IP routing to
enhanced security and firewall services. With so much capability available within a small footprint
numerous applications can be served, individually or in numerous logical combinations. Here is just a
selection of what a Converged Application Platform can do and the applications it can support:
• Deliver superior‐quality voice, data and • QoS management for multiple data
video traffic classes
• High‐definition audio, enabling high‐ • High‐speed Internet and intranet access
• Next‐generation collaboration
fidelity Voice over IP (VoIP)
• Desktop video telephony (peer‐to‐peer) applications
• Data backup, redundancy and storage
with video conferencing
• Intelligent automated • Stateful packet inspection, security and
attendant/context‐based call routing voice/data encryption with high data
• Data routing/packet forwarding to LAN rates
• Integrated hardware for popular
• Firewall and data stream security cryptography algorithms.
• Network Address Translation (NAT) • Remote management, diagnosis and
Convergence Holds the Key
In the high tech industry, products or network elements have tended to be named based on their actual
function; Base Station Controller, Home Location Register, Media Gateway Controller, firewall, media
router/server to name but a few. A Converged Application Platform, therefore, seems rather generic by
comparison. Herein, however, lies its strength. Application Platform couldn’t really be less specific. The
core benefits are all related to that seemingly simple word “Converged.” Taken directly from the
Merriam‐Webster dictionary, convergence is defined as:
• The act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity.
• The merging of distinct technologies, industries, or devices into a unified whole
“The merging of distinct technologies” and “moving toward… uniformity” is what CAPs are all about.
Technology, features and specific functionality are all great but the battle is now fought on the field of
economics. Those who can harness and leverage the reuse of their own developments linked with
strategic partnerships and supplier relationships will win in the long run.
Imagine a solution that requires five distinct elements or blocks of functionality. The classical
architectural approach would be to create five different systems each with multiple variants for
scalability etc. This could easily evolve into 15‐20 distinct platforms. Each would require similar
foundations but would often be created using different technologies. The inefficiencies are endless,
multiple chassis, power supplies, backplanes, operating systems, the list goes on and on. Developing
each from the ground up at let’s say $10M (a very conservative estimate) per platform would mean a
sunk cost of at least $50M before $1 of revenue, let alone profit could be generated. If we were able to
combine or “converge” all the required functionality into a single platform, even if the initial
development were 50% more expensive, that would mean only $15M, showing an overall savings of
$35M in development costs alone. When one considers the reduction in logistics and complexities
related to manufacturing a single platform rather than five one can easily see how the economic benefits
of a converged platform can be felt across the whole organization. Just think how it will benefit support,
field service and sparing.
Take One “To Go”
As we have discussed, the value in CAPs comes from the core benefits associated with a reusable
platform that can be configured for multiple applications individually or in logical combinations. As the
“magic sauce” that creates the flexible application suite is software this is where the nimble, innovative
and competitive communication solution provider should invest their precious time and effort. The
software still requires an underlying hardware platform and the economic benefits delivered by a CAP
can be enhanced further by sourcing one ready to go. Yes, such a platform could be built in house but
with the emphasis on an integrated software solution the ROI on internal hardware development is now
tenuous at best. “But” we hear you say “Our BOM (Bill of Materials) cost has to be less than the cost of
buying a finished unit from a third party.” Mathematically that argument alone may be true but the
“make vs. buy” business case is significantly more complex than a simple BOM/Cost comparison.
There are numerous costs associated with building a hardware platform that should be considered if a
fair comparison is to be made. Firstly one must maintain a capability in hardware design. When you
begin to add the entire associated infrastructure to support the product, cradle to grave and manage life
cycle issues the cost implications start to become clearer. Let’s take a look at the major functions and
cost areas required to design, build and support a hardware platform.
• Technology & architectural research – one doesn’t suddenly decide to build something without
having a staff of technologists who continually stay abreast of the latest industry developments
and can comprehend relevant benefits and impact.
• System Architecture team – Any system must begin with a detailed architectural design leading
to similarly detailed product specifications
• Board design – There are a multitude of boards, blades and functions required for each system,
general purpose processors, backplanes, storage and specialized network interfaces. Board
design teams require specific experience and knowledge.
• Chassis & Platform design – The enclosures and chassis themselves require their own teams with
specialists in power distribution, cooling and airflow as well as designing with NEBS standards
compliance in mind.
• Production engineering – Once a system has been developed it has to be manufactured and
production engineers need to ensure that it can.
• Engineering test and validation – boards and system designs need to be stringently tested
against both product specs and industry standards to ensure they will meet both customer and
• System level manufacturing – whether manufacturing in house or using contract manufacturers
this capability must exist and be paid for.
• Capital equipment – As well as the general office equipment required to support a team of
engineers e.g. PCs etc. there will be specialist equipment required as part of the design, test and
• Life cycle support – Once the boards and integrated system platform are complete that’s not the
end of the story. Components go “end of life,” bugs must be fixed and enhancements and
revisions must continue for the life of the product. Communications customers demand support
life cycles of ten years or often more.
• Training and Staff development – Investment in continuous training and personal development is
required to keep all staff members in sync with state of the art tools and techniques.
• Management, admin, real estate & overhead – To maintain any group of employees there are
always a myriad of overheads to consider; office and lab space, heating/lighting/phone,
administrative support, HR, Finance etc.
There are numerous other direct costs not covered here but considering these alone puts any BOM
related comparison in the context of merely touching the surface.
There are also two other key aspects to consider when evaluating a make vs. buy decision.
• Time to market – Competition is tough and if you don’t get to market first somebody else will!
First mover advantage is well documented and with typical system development cycles in the
range of 12‐18 months can you afford to wait that long when you could buy a readymade CAP
off the shelf and get to market in 3 – 6 months?
• Opportunity cost – What else could you be doing with the money you would otherwise spend on
internal hardware development? Invest in greater software expertise; improve profitability and
shareholder value, more sales and marketing or customer support? Any of these items may
prove to be of more benefit to your company than building your own hardware, especially as we
have already shown that the value is now in the software.
Converged Application Platforms – The Advantech Solution
Advantech has long understood the advantages of buying “off the shelf” technology and platforms and
their customers have been benefiting from Advantech’s innovation and leadership for many years.
Recognizing the increased benefits derived from Converged Application Platforms, Advantech released
the FWA‐2310E in 2008.
Based on the Intel® EP80579 Integrated Processor with Intel® QuickAssist Technology, the FWA‐2310E’s
platform design is extremely cost‐effective, providing telephony, video and data capabilities. A system‐
on‐a‐chip (SOC) solution the FWA‐2310E runs soft DSP algorithms for voice compression and echo
cancellation on analog calls coming in on FXS/FXO interfaces. Using the Intel® Accelerated DSP Solution
and Intel® Performance Primitive libraries, DSP algorithms execute directly on the Intel® architecture
core with enough capacity for a complete SMB multi‐service business gateway solution.
The SOC also includes integrated security acceleration capabilities allowing Advantech to consolidate
what was previously a six chip solution into a single device. In addition, by facilitating E1/T1, Wi‐Fi,
Gigabit Ethernet and GPON connectivity, the FWA‐2310E was designed with converged telephony and
security applications in mind. It also provides all the enabling hardware required for functions such as
voice switching, enterprise routing, firewall and VPN support all in a single, multi‐function device.
It is clear, as this paper has shown, that the industry has changed significantly since the days of Almon
Strowger’s “hat pin” switch. Technological advancement has accelerated dramatically and the economic
pressures of today’s marketplace require innovative design and procurement approaches to maintain
one’s competitive edge.
The advent of the Converged Application Platform and the ability to procure readymade platforms “off
the shelf” combine to create the optimum solution to maximize both technological and economic
benefits. Advantech, as a seasoned provider of communications solutions, and with products such as the
FWA‐2310E is the ideal partner to help create high performance and cost efficient Converged Application