Europe initiative plans next generation middleware

Leading software, telecom and IT services companies launched a new European research project to develop next generation middleware for digital services.

Thirteen leading software, telecommunications and IT services companies launched a major new European research cooperation project on Wednesday aiming to develop the next generation of middleware for the provision of digital services.

The new consortium, Networked European Software and Services Initiative (NESSI), is a joint venture between leading fixed and mobile telecom service providers in the U.K., Italy, Spain and Finland plus software firms like IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and SAP as well as IT service and systems providers such as Atos Origin and Thales Group.

Announcing the launch of the initiative at a press event in Brussels on Wednesday, Thales Group senior vice-president Jean-Paul Lepeytre said the aim of the project was to develop a global services oriented infrastructure based on open-source software. The objective was to ensure "faster, more reliable access" for customers to a range of services. The initiative, he said, could enable Europe to take the leadership position in this area of software development, overtaking competitors from the U.S. and Asia.

Lepeytre announced that the initiative would receive a Euro 2.5 billion (US$4.6 billion) investment with part of the money coming from the companies involved and the rest from public sources like the European Union's funds for research and development.

He went on to explain that a key part of NESSI's work would be to define standards for interoperability and the rules for governing the use of open-source software.

As an example of how NESSI's work might benefit users, Reinhard Achatz, vice president corporate technology at Siemens, quoted the example of a car driver who plans his journey using different modes of transport from home or office. When he gets into his car he continues to have access to travel information as well as the ability to do things such as change his travel plans by altering bookings online from the car. The car might also offer an automatic translation of roads signs in foreign languages, he suggested.

Achatz said that the commercial interest for Siemens of taking part in a project like NESSI was that it would improve the value of services for customers by reducing their costs or saving time in performing certain tasks by providing "seamless integration of different services."

"If the customer gets greater value (from a service), they will be prepared to pay for it," he said. He added that there would also be big benefits for smaller companies that would be able to offer new services without having to develop additions to the existing infrastructure themselves.

NESSI has been officially recognized as a "research technology platform" under the E.U.'s i2010 agenda for boosting competitiveness in information technology. Under this program, companies pledge to work together on a particular sector of the IT and communications field. Such platforms already exist for embedded intelligence and systems, mobile and wireless communications, networked and electronic media and nanoelectronics.

The consortium is expected to bid for research funding under the E.U.'s seventh framework program for research and development, due to start in 2007. The E.U. can provide up to 50 per cent of the total funding needs for a project.

The consortium will hold another meeting in November and is actively looking for more partners to join it.

The thirteen companies involved are: Atos Origin, BT Group, Engineering Ingegneria Informatica, IBM, HP, Nokia, ObjectWeb, SAP, Siemens, Software, Telecom Italia, TelefA³nica and Thales.

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