Open APIs

APIs need good parents to catalog success

Open APIs allow unparalleled speed and scale for standardized services, bringing all kinds of information, individuals, companies and other organizations together for purposes limited only by imagination. These interfaces enable the platform business model as well as other collaborative models.

TM Forum’s growing suite of Open APIs “provide an evolutionary path from the current telco operating model to the future network-as-a-service model…shining a bright light on this important path,” according to Dr. Lester Thomas, Chief IT Systems Architect, Vodafone Group.

The latest additions are TR229 ZOOM/NFV User Stories Suite*. ZOOM is TM Forum’s network functions virtualization (NFV) initiative and the new APIs address a key implementation problem for operators ­who need to manage the virtualized elements of their network in a hybrid (physical and virtualized) environment. The suite of APIs does this by enabling operators to integrate and interoperate all customers’ interactions with their existing OSS in that environment.

Although each API can be used in isolation, their real power is in being used together. The suite is as relevant to business and operational managers, as to designers and developers.

Here Frank Wong, Solution Architect, DGIT, talks to TM Forum’s Annie Turner about the development, applicability and adoption of a critical API in the new suite, ­the Entity Catalog API.

AT: What was your motivation in helping develop this API – what issue(s) did you want to address?
FW: The Entity Catalog API introduces new concepts to the [Forum’s] API program, including polymorphism, JSON-LD and schemas. They address my concerns with metadata on the earlier API designs, so I seized the opportunity to be part of the solution when offered.

AT: Can you explain what polymorphism, JSON-LD and schemas are and what they brought to the API?
FW: The API Program uses the Information Framework’s logical data model (SID) as the basis for its resource representations. Unfortunately, earlier iterations of the program’s APIs were unable to convey the richness of the SID.

An example of this is the inheritance between entity classes, such as product catalog and service catalog both being children of the entity catalog class and so sharing familial attributes and logic. Polymorphism is the implementation of support for such family trees, granting the API the capability to traverse ancestral lines within a single service.

JSON- LD is a standard for encoding linked data, and provides us with a conventional manner of defining metadata to deliver on the polymorphic feature described above, as well opening the door for future embracing of hypermedia.

Schemas build on this metadata focus further by providing clients with resource definitions that can be programmatically consumed to reduce the developer intervention required to consume an API.

AT: So, what does it allow you to do or enable you to do differently or better than before?
FW: The introduction of polymorphism allows the Entity Catalog API to consolidate both parent and child entities into an adaptive API, which provides greater design space and reduced overhead when implementing to these API specifications.

For example, being a common ancestor, an entity catalog service could provide four or more different types of catalogs (product, resource, service, entity, etc) from a single service, dramatically cutting down on the effort to support multiple services and their unique resources.

Meanwhile, schemas allow intelligent systems to understand an API and how it works with minimum manual intervention, bridging the gap between logical and physical models to reduce the time to market.

AT: How long have you been working on this and is it related to other similar projects?
FW: About six months, following the [July] 2016 Action Week in Vancouver. At DGIT Systems, we have been translating TM Forum models into practical APIs for a long time, so it was a matter of putting our experience into practice.

AT: What was your specific role in helping to develop the API?
FW: I designed and prepared the initial drafts of the Entity Catalog API, which the Catalog Team then carried on through to its published form. Unfortunately, I was less involved in the latter stages of its development due to the demands of other projects.

AT: How much collaboration was involved and what was your part in it?
FW: As part of the Catalog Team, we met regularly to review and support each other’s progress. [Ericsson’s] Kamal Maghsoudlou and [TM Forum’s] Michel Besson in particular provided valuable guidance throughout the early iterations.

AT: What challenges did you face in development?
FW: Balancing design ambition with temperance for compatibility. There were definitely more progressive changes we would have loved to implement, but would have deviate too far from the established norm.

AT: Who would benefit from using it and exactly what are the benefits it could deliver?
FW: This API provides catalog functionality for proprietary business entities that the previous APIs were not designed to cover, because their roots were in the telecoms industry. This opens opportunities to expand into other industries, cutting edge domains such as NFVs, or even just to support customizing business processes in a Forum-aligned manner.

AT: How is the API best deployed, for example. can the maximum benefits be realized from it being standalone or as part of an open API suite?
FW: As a service that provides generic specifications, the Entity Catalog API is equally effective whether as part of an open API suite or in conjunction with custom services providing entities that leverage the entity specifications.

AT: How is your organization using it or how does it intend to use it?
FW: The catalog service of our Telflow product is built on the same principles that forged the Entity Catalog’s design. As an order-capture and fulfillment platform, it simplifies catalog consumption for our customers and also allows the introduction of custom entities that satisfy the particular needs of every customer solution.

AT: What are the next steps?
FW: To take the technical concepts introduced with the Entity Catalog API and iterate them over future API specifications.

To learn more about the TM Forum’s APIs join or visit the {Open Hack} in Vancouver, September 25-26, at Team Action Week and join the program. For more information contact Joann O’Brien, who leads the Forum’s API work.

* Since February 2017, hundreds of individuals from a diverse range of member companies have worked together using TM Forum’s unique collaborative environment in 13 projects to deliver solutions to challenges facing businesses in the digital ecosystem. The results of their work are now available to TM Forum’s global membership, enabling all members to benefit from the new toolkits, best practices, maturity models, guides and technical reports within their businesses.




    About The Author

    Snr Director, Research & Media

    Annie Turner has been researching and writing about the communications industry since the 1980s, editing magazines dedicated to the subject including titles published by Thomson International and The Economist Group. She has contributed articles to many publications, including national and international newspapers such as the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune, and a multitude of business-to-business titles. She joined the TM Forum in 2010 and is responsible for overseeing the content of the Research and Publications portfolio.

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