Web Services

From Vision to Reality

Von Ann Toh

With that ambition, Virgin Mobile USA used Web services in its infrastructure to help them make their value proposition come to life. And this infrastructure, which had to provide both telco reliability and customer and back-office systems that deliver a "100 percent Virgin experience" went "live" when Virgin Mobile USA was launched in the U.S. in June 2002. It was built around commercially available applications from Siebel Systems Inc., BEA Systems, Inc., Unimobile, Telcordia Technologies Inc.'s ISCP and J.D. Edwards, by an inhouse team of 90 staff. Virgin Mobile exposed its environment through SS7 protocols to use the Sprint network and through Web services to facilitate internal and external control. Nineteen HTML, XML and SOAP interfaces, including point-of-sale, order management, product fulfilment and service provisioning were developed. Parks' team also needed to engineer seven additional interfaces to legacy systems using proprietary technologies for network provisioning, call accounting and back-office. Its Web services platform is BEA WebLogic 6.1, BEA WebLogic Portal 4.0, BEA WebLogic Integration 2.1 and XML Schema, using standards including WSDL, UDDI, SOAP and SOAP RPC (Remote Procedure Call).

Parks explains why he did not build his Web services infrastructure on the .Net platform. "We had to provide telco levels of reliability and scalability, and when you put that on the table, you find yourself using a more Java, Unix environment than a Microsoft, .Net one. But Microsoft has evolved the .Net strategy to where it's more palatable. Where it makes sense, we are happy to use it."

Virgin's Web services architecture also overcame many issues facing its business model, one of which was the need to work with multiple distribution channels, content providers and customer contact points. "We needed a technology that vendors and partners could learn and implement real-time transactions quickly. Because several external vendors lacked experience in developing real time interfaces, the Web services framework is relatively easy to teach and co-develop in," says Parks.

Currently, Virgin Mobile USA has over 30 external interfaces to partners, ranging from content providers and distributors to integrators. They include businesses that provide credit card validation services, ringtones, or account top-up up via IVR (Interactive Voice Response), the Web, or phone. It now has two content providers. "These sit outside our infrastructure. Transactions have to happen in real-time, and Web services abstracts interface solutions from connectivity specifics. By utilising Web services over VPN connections, we reduce on-going communication costs," Parks adds.

Most of Parks' internal systems have proprietary interfaces - for instance CORBA interfaces to the ISCP and to Sprint for activation, and connectors that talk to Siebel - but he plans to Web service-enable more of his infrastructure components. "When we move Siebel from Siebel 2000 to Siebel 7, we can migrate it to a Web service. For iterations, we just use XML to communicate between BEA and Siebel, so hopefully we will move more and more to Web services not only externally but internally," he says.

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