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July 01, 2009

Extensibility: The Next "Killer Application"

By TMCnet Special Guest
Andrew Nicholson, Product Marketing Manager, Aculab


As those who follow the communications industry can attest, one of the favorite pastimes of technology vendors is to prognosticate which emerging communications features or applications will radically change the way businesses communicate.
 
This game of developing technology, and then rationalizing how customers benefit from innovation, has been going on for years.  Remember when Voice over IP was initially introduced to the market?  Vendors frantically tried to jump-start sales by positioning this new technology as superior to the five-nines reliability of TDM.  The prevailing rationale was that the deployment of a young VoIP solution would eliminate exorbitant toll charges, rendering legacy technology obsolete.  Of course, carriers countered the introduction of VoIP with vastly reduced long-distance tariffs, and many customers were shocked to learn that their networks could only support voice traffic if they invested heavily in upgrading them.  As a result, the “killer app” of reduced toll charges fell by the wayside after customers found short-term alternatives to VoIP.  It took several years for VoIP to finally find its footing — as a powerful conduit for business improvement applications.
 
A similar dynamic is occurring today as more and more vendors proclaim unified communications or collaboration as the “killer application.”  While these solutions do have tremendous appeal to organizations that rely on mobile or geographically dispersed workforces, too many vendors have too many varying definitions for unified communications.  So, as is often the case when flaunting the next killer app, a skeptical marketplace chooses to sit idly by and wait for something more compelling to come down the pike.
 
Of course, there is no one single technology that has redefined the market.  What may excite one customer might not work for another.  Unified communications may make sense for a realtor, but it doesn’t justify any action on the part of the retailer.  A transportation company may invest heavily in mobility tools, while an accounting firm can do just fine with dial tone and IVR technologies.  That’s the point:  Economic realities dictate business today.  Customers understand they can benefit from next generation solutions, but resources are scarce.
 
Therefore, the best “killer application” is one that allows customers to integrate their preferred productivity tools while leveraging their existing infrastructures.  It’s the concept of “extensibility,” and it gives customers the best of both worlds:  The opportunity to leverage the advanced communications solutions that are right for their business, without having to endure the disruption and expense associated with upgrading, or even replacing their networks.
 
Off the Shelf Solutions
Not surprisingly, the ability to utilize the existing enterprise network is a notion that is gaining more acceptance among businesses.  When considering the huge capital commitment needed to rip and replace the infrastructure, coupled with the time involved, it’s not surprising that many, many companies are resisting the urge to dive into this labyrinth and, instead, are seeking new ways to use what is already theirs.
 
What’s even more intriguing is the fact that many of the technologies that can extend infrastructure lifecycles are relatively low-cost and require a minimal amount of configuration and technical expertise. IP Gateways are an excellent illustration of how businesses can integrate powerful new services easily and affordably.  Many vendors offer these devices to integrate IP communications services into the existing TDM infrastructure.  Some of these devices are considered “plug-and-play,” and can be readily deployed with minimal disruption.  Businesses have found Gateways to be flexible and cost-effective, particularly if they want to deploy Voice over IP in a gradual manner, or within one specific workgroup within their organization.  There’s no need to replace the network, as the Gateway (News - Alert) handles all the conversions between the IP devices and the legacy TDM network.  What’s more, an IP Gateway can also facilitate several next generation IP-based productivity solutions, like unified communications or mobility tools, extending the value of the legacy network even more.   An IP Gateway makes tremendous sense for businesses looking to add new IP-based productivity tools without making a sizable capital investment.
 
In addition to IP Gateways, many customers are finding dual-mode handsets as another off-the-shelf path to solving their productivity needs.  Many of these devices can support IP, digital, 802.11, and even cellular traffic.  Again, it’s another tried-and-true method to maximize their technology investments.
 
Extensibility Through Software
As innovation continues to move forward in the communications arena, many developers are at the leading edge in creating software and other tools that enable legacy networks to integrate with next generation tools.
 
Providers are creating solutions based on a new generation of Digital Signaling Processors (DSPs) that enable a more efficient conversion between TDM and IP protocols. These specialized applications address both real business challenges for enterprises, and can extend to hosted offerings from service providers.  
 
DSP-based media processors enable solutions providers to create pathways between dissimilar networks. These tools further extend the operational life of ISDN, CAS, and other legacy systems through converting to SIP and other IP protocols. In an enterprise setting, this results in happy customers who can deliver powerful new features to their users without bearing the cost of an equipment replacement.
 
For service providers, DSP-based media processors provide OPEX (News - Alert) advantages for operators offering hosted solutions for IVR, Contact Center, and other IP-based services.  These resources can be deployed to provide the quantity of connections — both trunks and IP channels — to deliver the services required. As demand increases, the system can be easily scaled to meet customer requirements.
 
For the smaller enterprise or hosted provider, host media processing enables the user to scale down the application to a size and cost that fits. Software-based media processing makes use of compute cycles on a host platform (PC, Linux workstation, blade, laptop, etc.) to enable IP network hosted applications. A distributed contact center can be “hosted” on multiple computing platforms with a centralized controlling application. This distributed architecture allows the user or provider to scale operator seats on an ongoing basis with granularity down to a single channel. Simply put, it combines flexibility and cost controls — something every business is looking for in today’s market.
 
Core network extension
Service providers have invested heavily in their networks over time. As a matter of course, technology has run faster than the depreciation of the capital investment. Extending the service life of these networks is a major economic concern for all. At the end of the day, the majority of voice users still have a wired telephone connected to a TDM switch.
 
Gateways in the core network provide the bridge across which next generation IP features can be seamlessly delivered to those users. Most customers don’t care how the feature gets to them; they just want to be able to access the latest whiz-bang capabilities they hear about in the news and on the Web. 
 
Gateways in the core must be flexible in the languages they speak (SS7, SIP, CAS, ISDN, SIGTRAN); the physical connections they support (Ethernet, T1/E1, optics, etc.); and the services they enable (call manager, signaling gateway, media/content gateway, protocol conversion, codec administration, path redundancy, and a host of other core functions). While gateways in the core are more complex in capabilities, they provide similar functions to their counterparts in the enterprise – delivering new capabilities while extending the value of the embedded network infrastructure.
 
A Killer Application?
Obviously, extensibility is not an application but, when every prudent business is looking for ways to reduce expenses and squeeze every revenue drop from their infrastructures, extensibility is the most logical solution. While waiting for the next “killer application” to distinguish itself from the pack, the prudent network operator and enterprise is most likely going to build on what they already have and stretch their resources through the enablement of new features and functionality via gateways and other extensible technologies.
 
Andrew Nicholson is a Product Marketing Manager at Aculab (News - Alert), overseeing Aculab's Prosody X and Prosody X products. For more on extensibility and how Aculab’s technology building blocks help developers leverage existing infrastructure to deliver new capabilities, visit the VoIP Developer channel on TMCnet.
 
Also, don’t miss your chance to speak in person with experts from Aculab at its booth at ITEXPO West in Los Angeles, September 1-3, 2009. Aculab, an ITEXPO (News - Alert) Diamond Sponsor, will be in booth #512.

TMCnet publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.

Edited by Erik Linask



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