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Open source integration framework keeps motorists safe in the UK

By James A. Denman

15 May 2012 | TheServerSide.com

Automotive rescue and recovery services in the UK gained significant messaging advantages over the past few years. The new Automotive Network Services (ANS) system, built and maintained by Apex Networks, connects automotive clubs and insurance agencies with the mechanics, riggers, and first responders that provide emergency services to accidents and disabled vehicles.

Conceived of in 2010, the ANS is a joint venture spearheaded by nine of the top auto insurance companies in the United Kingdom. Together they realized that although each had the basic components available in most areas, none of them could individually provide reliable coverage everywhere in the Kingdom, but that together they could.

The ANS network, built on Apache projects with help from FuseSource, allows each auto service provider access to the full network of tow services and emergency responders. When an incident is reported, the system will find and notify the nearest vehicle that can handle the event.

The system's matrix takes into account a variety of factors, including distance, needed skill sets and necessary equipment, to determine the most appropriate contact point. If this contact does not respond in under three minutes with an estimated time of arrival, the system will automatically move on to the next available contact point until a single point of contact is confirmed.

The challenge for Apex was to provide fast reliable messaging in high volumes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred sixty-five days a year, with the ability to scale out horizontally across all of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In any given year the AMS system will send and receive over 100 million messages in order to handle automotive emergencies across the entire UK. The acceptance rate for downtime is understandably low.

Apex Networks directors Steve Williams and Chris White evaluated several different options before settling on an open source solution aimed at enterprise Java developers. Up until this point, Apex had been "Probably the furthest thing from an enterprise Java shop," according to White. Apex Networks was traditionally a Microsoft shop.

The first option they explored was Microsoft's BizTalk systems. While BizTalk had all the functionality they were looking for, the folks at Apex were concerned about support issues. According to Williams, "You can get a hold of support from Microsoft, but it's not quick."

The team also considered other commercial messaging software, like IBM's WebSphere, before settling on an open source system. However, Williams and others were concerned about proprietary licensing fees, which can escalate on a per unit basis and would make it hard to meet the requirement of horizontal scalability.

Going with open source software allowed Apex to ensure that licensing costs wouldn't interfere with getting their network installed everywhere they needed it. Not just in garages, police stations, and other dispatch centers but in the fire trucks, tow trucks, police cars and other response vehicles, and even on the smartphones and PDAs of the response personnel.

Apex has proven that open source tools can be reliable and scalable, not to mention affordable, and the motorists in the United Kingdom are better off because of it.