Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Conflicting Views on the IMS Service Architecture




The two figures above both depict the IMS Service Architecture.

The first one is taken from the 3GPP specifications and is therefore the primary basis for anyone to understand the IMS Service Architecture.

The second one is my own representation of the IMS service architecture, based on the exact same specifications, and is therefore only accessible by the readers of this blog. As I have not seen so far a similar representation anywhere else, you can assume that this is not at the moment the mainstream perception of the IMS service architecture in the telco community.

IMS as a New Intelligent Network (IN)

The 3GPP representation of the IMS service architecture is network centric. It represents the IMS application layer solely according to its interface to the IMS core network, placed at the center of the figure with the S-CSCF.

This representation is potentially misleading as technicians with a classical telecom background can perceive the IMS service architecture as an IP replica of the Intelligent Networks that can be found in all existing fixed and mobile circuit-switched networks. Actually, I have seen this view supported numerous times, both by these people who know everything about telecommunications and by alleged IMS experts.

This IN perception of the IMS service architecture is re-inforced by the fact that two of the IMS application server types represented in the figure are tightly linked to IN: the IM SSF is a gateway between IMS and an IN application server, and the OSA gateway is usually (and rightly) perceived as being essentially an API on top of IN. Adding to the confusion, the terminology used for the IMS service architecture (e.g. trigger points) heavily borrows from IN (to be frank, some companies participating to IMS standardization did see this architecture as an IN one).

In an IN network, the (fixed or mobile) switch interfaces with the application server through a dedicated control interface (e.g. INAP, CAP, an IS.41 subset), which permits the application server to control the switch by issuing instructions to it. These instructions essentially serve the purpose to control voice calls, as the circuit-switched network is voice centric.

In such an architecture, the basic voice services are supported by the core network, which is complemented by application servers for the delivery of "supplementary" or "value-added" services.

With this kind of background, it is easy to perceive ISC as the IMS equivalent to INAP/CAP and the IMS application servers as an extension to the core network. Some might even argue that the IMS application layer is not needed, if you can implement all the required supplementary services within the S-CSCF.

IMS as a Totally New Service Architecture

However, the IN-oriented interpretation of the IMS service architecture does not resist a thorough analysis of the specifications that I tried to describe in past posts (here, there, there and there).

First, with the exception of the user registration part of the ISC reference point (which permits the S-CSCF to notify application servers about registration events, but does not permit the AS to block registrations), ISC cannot be seen as a logical interface between the S-CSCF and the application server.

On the contrary, ISC is only one branch in an end-to-end SIP interaction between the application server and other application-related entities. In such an interaction, the S-CSCF and the whole IMS core network only act as intermediaries and service-related routing functions between application-related entities. This is why I tend to represent the whole IMS core network as a SIP-oriented service bus supporting the IMS application layer (I will come back on this in a future post). This bus is essential for the IMS application layer, but its significance is close to zero from a service perspective. Suffice to say that it duly supports its service bus role, and that the best additional value it can offer to applications is to be totally transparent to them.

The second essential characteristic of IMS that dismisses the claims of an IN replica is that SIP is not the equivalent of SS7 over IP:
- SIP sessions are not voice calls. They are much more generic service sessions, which may even not include any voice or person-to-person communication component.
- SIP is not only about SIP sessions. Other SIP methods make SIP a very generic service control protocol.

With such a knowledge in mind, it is irrelevant to represent the IMS service architecture without representing what is on the other side of ISC (and other SIP-relate reference points supported in the IMS core network). My figure tries to represent all the possibilities.

However, this figure is still incomplete, as it focuses on the SIP dimension of the IMS service architecture. For a more complete view, look at this previous post.

The End-To-End IMS Service Architecture (SIP Dimension)

Many possibilities exist, that I already described in the past (here, there and there), but I will summarize below (note that the examples are very basic).

An IMS endpoint (terminal, endpoint application server) in the operator's domain initiates a SIP service interaction with the IMS application server. ISC is the last branch used in this interaction. Example: user accesses presence.

An IMS endpoint (terminal, endpoint application server) in another operator's domain initiates a SIP service interaction with the IMS application server. ISC is the last branch used in this interaction. Example: user accesses presence.

An endpoint (terminal, endpoint application server) in a non-IMS domain (e.g. enterprise network, the Internet) initiates a service interaction with the IMS application server. ISC is the last branch used in this interaction. Example: user accesses presence. Note that the non-IMS endpoint may either use SIP or another protocol to initiate the interaction. In the latter case, a protocol converter (e.g. Jabber to SIP) will translate the initial request into SIP.
Specific case: the non-IMS endpoint is an application server (e.g. Internet application requiring user's presence).

The application server initiates a SIP service interaction with an IMS endpoint (terminal, endpoint application server) in the same operator's domain. ISC is the first branch used in this interaction. Example: application server sends instant message to user.

The application server initiates a SIP service interaction with an IMS endpoint (terminal, endpoint application server) in another operator's domain. ISC is the first branch used in this interaction. Example: application server sends instant message to user of another operator.

The application server initiates a SIP service interaction with an endpoint (terminal, endpoint application server) in a non-IMS domain (e.g. in an enterprise network or in the Internet). ISC is the first branch used in this interaction. Example: application server sends instant message to user in the Internet. Note that the non-IMS endpoint may either accept SIP requests or not. In the latter case, a protocol converter (e.g. SIP to Jabber) will translate the initial request to the required protocol.
Specific case: the non-IMS endpoint is an application server (e.g. presence server).

The application server initiates a SIP service interaction with another IMS application server in the same operator's domain. ISC is both the first and last branch used in this interaction. Example: presence-based application accesses user's presence.

The application server initiates a SIP service interaction with another IMS application server in another operator's IMS domain. ISC is both the first and last branch used in this interaction. Example: presence-based application accesses user's presence.

An IMS application server acts as an intermediary in any of the interactions listed above, plus the essential case where none of the service interaction endpoint is an IMS application server (e.g. two IMS devices, an IMS device and a non-IMS device, an IMS device and a non-IMS endpoint application server). The idea is for the intermediary AS to either control or add-value to the end-to-end interaction. ISC is a branch somewhere in the middle of the SIP signalling path. Note that several IMS ASs can be inserted as intermediaries in the signalling path, forming a chain of combined services. Examples: IMS AS authorizes and/or charges for access to service, IMS application server inserts media plane intermediary to improve user experience (e.g. media mixing, media transcoding).

User Oriented Service Routing

The SIP dimension of the IMS service architecture relies on two SIP routing mechanims:
1) Standard SIP routing (labelled in the figure as IETF SIP routing) based on the resolution of the target SIP address towards an endpoint.
2) IMS User Oriented and Service Profile based routing (labelled in the figure as user profile based routing), which permits to dynamically alter SIP routing on a user-per-user basis towards IMS application servers. The service profiles stored in the HSS can be seen as service routing routing under the control of the operator and modifiable over time. This permits to incrementally modify SIP routing as applications are added or removed from the network, and this without impacting endpoints.

This draws a service architecture which is very flexible in terms of service logic location (in service entities like application servers in the network, endpoint application servers, devices), very flexible in terms of location of service entities in different domains (the operator's domain, another operator's domain, an enterprise domain, the Internet) and very agile in its possibility to dynamically modify service logic at work in the network.

Christophe

7 comments:

Paul said...

Hi Christophe, glad to see you back.

And surprising job change, how was that? I thought you fitted well in Swisscom. Maybe you are seeking to spread your influence over more than one telco... :p

Aayush Bhatnagar said...

That is indeed an insightful text on the IMS service architecture. IMS Application Servers have always confused me!! My confusion was compounded when I tried to distinguish between a PSI and an ICSI! I did come up with a distinction on the issue,which may or may not be entirely correct!I came up with this note..please correct me if I am wrong:

An ICSI is used for identifying the correct application servers for delivery of services. An IMS communication service may utilize several application servers, which may host service enablers and the services themselves. As an example, an Instant Messaging (IM) service may be hosted on an application server, but any real-time IM service is incomplete without ‘presence’ information. For presence, there is a separate application server. In my example, Instant Messaging is the service and ‘presence’ is a service enabler. The ICSI helps identifying both these application servers during service delivery to the user. For enabling the IM service, the network needs to combine the functionality of both these application servers. This is identified by the ICSI. Similarly, we may have an OMA PoC (Push to talk Over Cellular) service utilizing numerous servers. When I say ‘service’, I am referring to the ‘default’ application which identifies that service. But, that default application may utilize many add-on applications to create a ‘composite’ service, which will eventually be the end-user experience. These add-on applications are the ‘application references’(3GPP specs). An ICSI indicates not only the default application, but also the application reference(s). Therefore, the ICSI will identify a composite service which will encapsulate numerous application references.
(sorry for the loooong comment)

Jack Chrysler said...
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