Mitel patents student work for telco equipment tools

A team of Ottawa-based college students have created software that could help Mitel Networks engineers better identify problems in telecommunications equipment.

Mitel Wednesday said it had patented three of 11 hardware and software projects developed at St. Lawrence College. The school works with the IP telephony specialist to give students real-world experience, while the vendor gains some relatively cheap development help and a potential source of new employees.

One of the projects, SmartLogs 2, is a browser-based application that builds upon a similar project St. Lawrence developed last year. Though the college works with a number of companies, Mitel was the first to patent a project with SmartLogs 1.

Trevor Rainey, coordinator of the Computer Engineering Technology Program at St. Lawrence College, said the initiative also involved the school’s electronics program, which focuses on microchip design. Companies like Mitel propose the projects to the school, which then splits the base of approximately 50 students into teams of five. The projects are developed over the course of the year. Rainey said he tries to get students involved in areas where companies lack particular skill sets.

“We try to get all the different bases covered so that it makes the students marketable,” he said. “We get them on a good project and they go right in and they’re functional right away. They don’t have to be trained for six months.”

“Not only do we propose the ideas but we propose what kind of workload they can sustain,” said Tonis Kasvand, external research coordinator at Mitel Networks and project leader. “It’s a negotiation process to determine their capabilities. But they’ve already done two years of college beforehand, so the professors have a good idea of how the students will participate.”

The other two projects involve the role of hardware and software in “tuple spaces” — a mathematical technique for allowing applications and devices to communicatewith each other from a central location.

Kasvand said there are lots of applications that need to communicate with each other and demonstrate their service availability. Instead of building a new protocol to share ideas, a common interface or “tuple space” would advertise an application’s services. Other applications could then use those services.

“If you use the Yellow Pages to look up information, you go to a particular location,” Rainey explains. “It’s the same thing in message passing. There’s a certain topic that’s stored in a computer somewhere in the network. (Tuple spaces) will find it and send the information back and forth.”

The purpose of Mitel’s external research group is to integrate new technologies and concepts into the company’s products. While it may be a few years before tuple space-related tools make their way into Mitel’s product line, SmartLogs 2 holds real potential.

“We’re talking with designers who want to play with it,” he said. “They’ve already seen thousands of logs that need to be analyzed to find the true problems within the systems. In the future, perhaps it will be integrated into the product.”

Rainey said Mitel, which has been working with the school for 10 years, has already hired one student involved in previous SmartLogs work. The original course has been running since 1983, when it was set up as a software program for budding telecommunications professionals.

“We’ve been gradually phasing it into a microchip design course. There’s not too many of them around today,” he said. “There aren’t enough people coming out of either programs to satisfy the market.”

Most of the companies involved, which also include Nortel, Alcatel, Entrust and Hummingbird, sit on the college’s advisory board.

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