Wedge Greene

TeleRenaissance  |  PolyArchitect | Syscosm | Autonomics

WorldCom's OSS Mystery Man

From: The Net Economy,  September, 2001  by Rachael King

When MCI Communications drove the first nail in AT&T's coffin back in the early 1990s, it used an innovative, home-grown billing system as its hammer. That do-it-yourself platform gave life to MCI Friends & Family, a legendary calling plan that enabled the upstart carrier to capture an estimated 12 million new customers within three years.

A decade later, the company now known as WorldCom is looking for another breakthrough offering to cure a long spell of mediocre performance. And just as before, it's pinning a lot of its hopes on back-office innovation. Over the past two years alone, WorldCom has spent about $275 million on customer care and next-generation operations support systems in an effort to find the engine that will drive the next Friends & Family.

A big chunk of that money — WorldCom won't say exactly how much — has been earmarked for a top-secret project known as NewWave OSS. WorldCom will say almost nothing about its NewWave initiative. And the mastermind behind NewWave will say even less.

Who Is That Masked Man?

That mastermind is Wedge Greene, WorldCom's architect of next-generation OSS. Greene, who came into the WorldCom family via MCI Data eight years ago (after Friends & Family launched), is responsible for figuring out how WorldCom's back-office systems will support future services to be delivered using IP and optical transport. It is an issue he refuses to discuss with the press.

Those in the OSS know say Greene has a massive weight on his shoulders. "WorldCom's next-generation platform has been under discussion, development and design for as long as I can remember," says Kimber Lewis, president of Cramer Systems, a maker of provisioning software. "This next-generation platform is the panacea of all platforms, and WorldCom is one of the last to hope to build it."

Greene has made the decision to go it alone, building everything internally and not buying any products from vendors. Research for the NewWave prototype officially began early last year; as of yet, nothing has been brought to market.

Well, maybe "go it alone" is an exaggeration. Greene also is a board member with the TeleManagement Forum, the trade group that has spent the better part of the past decade developing an overarching scheme for defining network management and OSS functions and how they fit together. As a board member, Greene has managed to turn TMF's R&D attention to some of the OSS projects that he'd like to implement at WorldCom.

But even in his work within TMF, Greene presents an enigma. He initially endorsed TMF's main foray into defining a new model for OSSs, called NGOSS (for New Generation Operations Support System). The main purpose of NGOSS is to define a technology-agnostic architecture that would allow developers to create interoperable OSS applications — the plug-and-play utopia long sought-after by the telecom industry.

"A lot of the early NGOSS work came out of the ideas Wedge brought to the TMF," says Richard Whitehead, VP of strategic technology at software developer Micromuse and a TMF member. "The first draft of the architecture in many cases could have been copied from Wedge's early architecture designs on how WorldCom was planning on linking OSSs together."

Somewhere along the way, Greene's vision for the actual technological implementation of the principles of next-gen OSSs diverged from TMF's direction. For instance, while many TMF members are using XML interfaces to create NGOSS-compliant software, Greene wants to use Sun Microsystems' Java and Jini for the interfaces. Jini provides simple mechanisms that let devices plug together to form impromptu communities. The result: Greene now leads a de facto splinter group within TMF that is pursuing a different implementation of NGOSS.

That different approach is called Fine Grain NGOSS, and it will make its debut at next month's TeleManagement World conference in Las Vegas. Fine Grain NGOSS will be one of five "catalyst projects" — TMF's term for ongoing development work — showcased at the conference.

Against the Grain

Don't let the similarity in names fool you: Fine Grain NGOSS represents a significant departure from the NGOSS agenda being pursued by the TMF, and it's not a departure that's appreciated by some TMF insiders.

People who have worked with Greene in the TMF describe him as intelligent yet opinionated. "I respect him, and he's committed to the Forum," says Whitehead. "He's very frank — if he sees something he's not happy with, he'll make that quite clear."

In the case of NGOSS, Greene's actions speak volumes. "If you look at WorldCom's strategy now and NGOSS, it's not quite as similar as it was a year ago," says Whitehead. At first the forum's NGOSS started out technology-independent, but now the organization is putting technology behind those ideas through its catalyst projects.

Vendors participating in the catalyst projects have started bringing products to market based on NGOSS principles. However, TMF members now say that Greene isn't interested in buying any of those products.

Those who know Greene say the architecture he's building is broken down into much smaller components than the NGOSS products vendors are now selling. Today, if a carrier were to follow the NGOSS guidelines to build a next-generation OSS, it would select a backplane (a.k.a. an enterprise application integration platform). Then it would buy off-the-shelf applications for operations like workflow management, order management, fault management and system resource management. Finally, it would meld them all together with adapters and workflow software.

All told, a service provider would pull together about a dozen different pieces of software that, because they conform to NGOSS, would be plug-and-play, says Mark Mortensen, chief marketing officer at OSS developer Granite Systems.

Greene has told other TMF members that it's much more efficient to break those systems down even further, into maybe 500 or as many as 1,000 little systems. That kind of granularity would result essentially in the deconstruction of all OSS applications. For instance, instead of different vendors each building report generators for their own systems, there would be one standard report generator to be used and reused wherever needed.

Says Mortensen, "Wedge would like to have his own development shop and buy piece parts from people."

A Little Help From His Friends

Next month's Fine Grain NGOSS demo is not a one-man show. Sun heads the list of vendors participating in the catalyst project — no surprise given Greene's take on Java and Jini. Other suppliers slated to participate in the demo include Brokat Technologies, CH2M Communications, Dorado Software, IntelliDEN, Interlink Networks, IntraMission and Valaran.

But many other vendors say the fine-grain approach simply isn't feasible because of the number of components involved. "My major objection is technological," says Mortensen. "You have to decide on a backplane and what the interchange mechanism is, but that's changing so rapidly that once you start building it, your interfaces would change and you would have to redo it all." Mortensen also asserts that the fine-grain approach breaks down because it is not yet possible to cleanly specify the behavior of all these parts when they are put together.

"Commercially, I don't see how we could develop a free-market in systems this small," he adds.

Other TMF members also are skeptical about Greene's plan. "The lifecycle maintenance will put a company under," says Lewis of Cramer Systems.

It's hard to tell where WorldCom itself stands on Greene's master plan. The company acknowledges that one part of WorldCom is using a next-gen OSS, but it will not disclose details. Although WorldCom will not comment directly on Greene's NewWave initiative, it does say would be premature to hang its hat on any one OSS approach.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in The Net Economy.