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Rich Tehrani’s Executive Suite is a monthly feature in which leading executives in the VoIP and IP Communications industry discuss their company’s latest developments with TMC (News - Alert) president Rich Tehrani, as well as providing analysis on industry news and trends.

Rich
recently spent time with Bob O’Neil, president and CEO of Covergence, who explained the significance of the access edge, and why Covergence has chosen to specifically address the access edge with its Eclipse line of SBCs.

Bob O'Neil







 

Bob O'Neil

 
 
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Covergence president & CEO Bob O’Neil


The reality of IMS-based networks and the advanced communications solutions they enable is that, while the end user may experience greater convenience, there are considerable complexities within the networks that have to be managed in order to ensure quality and continuity of service. There are relationships between carrier networks that need to be managed, for instance.

But there are also a larger number of shorter relationships — or interconnections — between carriers and subscribers connecting to their services. These connections have to be managed to ensure the reliability and stability of the network, as well as compliance with various policies and legal standards.

RT: Bob, can you give an overview of Eclipse and Covergence’s market focus?

BO: Covergence is the creator of Eclipse, the industry’s first session border controller specifically designed to address the unique requirements of the access edge. The SBC market started about five or six years ago with most of the focus on solving network peering problems between providers. Covergence was founded in Q4 2003 to focus on the access edge of real-time services.

he core of our team has spent their careers at Shiva, Cascade, Aptis, Bay Networks, Cisco, and Nortel (News - Alert) , solving high-performance routing and access problems for traditional IP applications. As a result of our prior experience, we knew that ensuring the security, quality, and reliability of large-scale real-time deployments — not just VoIP — would require a specialized approach. Unlike email or Web browsing, where a few seconds’ delay or an occasional resend go unnoticed, a small delay or the loss of a few packets can make an audio or video session unusable.

That need for security and toll quality reliability is greatest in the enterprise market and within the service provider market that is targeting enterprise customers.

RT: Tell me more about the access edge vs. the peering edge.

BO: The peering edge of real-time networks is about interconnecting a small number of very large networks between well defined and trusted partners. The access edge is the exact opposite. The access edge is about connecting a very large number of short-lived connections from potentially millions of untrusted endpoints. As a result, there are many unique requirements at the access edge. The access edge has to process registration traffic, manage registration floods, authenticate users, protect the service from intrusions and attacks, encrypt and decrypt signaling and media, enforce user-defined policies, and manage thousands to millions of active endpoints — and do it all with negligible latency, jitter, and loss. This is the reason the IMS architecture, as specified by the ETSI TISPAN organization, defines both access edge and peering edge signaling control functions.

RT: What makes Eclipse optimized for the access edge?

BO: First, Eclipse is designed and optimized for predictably scaling SIP-based applications. Eclipse systems use a high-performance, multi-processor, multi-core hardware platform equipped with a large amount of high-speed memory. This enables a single Eclipse appliance to support hundreds of thousands of concurrent connectionless (UDP) or connection oriented (TCP, TLS) sessions with high re-registration rates. Also, Eclipse appliances can be organized into a high availability, self-healing cluster with automatic distribution of signaling and media streams across cluster elements to ensure consistent performance as the offered load increases.

Next, Eclipse was designed from the ground up to provide the comprehensive security — encrypted, validated, and authenticated connections combined with intrusion and attack prevention — required at the access edge. The ability to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity of users’ information is critical at the access edge. Finally, Eclipse is designed for multimedia services, not just VoIP. Eclipse works at the application level to support multimedia collaboration applications, like Microsoft (News - Alert) Office Communicator (OC) and Live Communication Server (LCS). For instance, Eclipse is the only SBC that supports all modes of OC/LCS communication (peer-to-peer audio, video, file transfer, telephony, phone control, conference control, etc.) and value-added features, such as IM, audio and video content recording, and virus-scanning of OC/LCS based file transfers.

RT: Are service providers expanding their service portfolios beyond VoIP? How do these deployments relate to IMS?

BO: Service providers are looking to IMS ( IP Multimedia Subsystem (News - Alert) ) to define the architecture and standards that support the delivery of new revenue generating services. But, competitive forces are driving many service providers to deliver real-time services now, while they simultaneously plan and execute the evolution of their infrastructure toward full IMS compliance.

We are definitely seeing a trend within our service provider customers of extending their services beyond VoIP to increase subscribers and create new sources of revenue. We call these “pre-IMS” deployments. A common pre-IMS theme that has emerged this past year is service providers using Eclipse to incorporate Microsoft’s Live Communications Server into their offering to add IM, presence, multimedia conferencing, and other services to their existing VoIP service. Service providers also use Eclipse to offer LCS federation services to their customers, to enable broader use of IM and to enable the use of Office Communicator as a phone for “on-net” calling between federation partners.

But the long-term goal is full IMS compliance, and this is where Eclipse really proves its value. The Eclipse IMS-compliant system architecture includes independent signaling proxy, media proxy, and policy decision functions, plus value-added features, like audio recording and a Web services interface for management and session control. Eclipse enables the secure and managed delivery of rich multimedia services today, and future proofs the access edge migration to IMS.

RT: You mentioned the enterprise market — what’s your assessment of where that market is today and where it’s headed in the near future?

BO: The enterprise market is entering a period of accelerated change. With Eclipse, we now have the ability to extend IP telephony and Unified Communications (News - Alert) securely to remote users and sites across fixed and mobile devices. This enables organizations to converge voice, video, and data onto a single IP network. It also makes it possible for organizations to use Unified Communications to streamline business processes that extend across physical or organizational boundaries.

But perhaps the most exciting trend we are seeing now in the enterprise is the rise of embedding real-time communications into business applications. We have a number of customers that are using Eclipse and its Web services interface to integrate voice capabilities into customer facing applications. The Eclipse Web services interface enables an application to control sessions — start, stop, fork, record, route, encrypt, etc. — based on business rules contained in the application. For instance, one customer has integrated its CRM system into Eclipse, so that its sales force can use the CRM system to initiate calls to call customers. If a call is not answered, Eclipse delivers a pre-recorded voicemail to the customer, and the sales rep can move onto the next customer. We have other customers that have integrated Eclipse with their Call Center applications to route inbound service calls based on the logic contained in their Call Center applications.

RT: What are your biggest challenges?

BO:
Right now, our biggest challenge is managing growth. From a sales and support perspective, we now have growing operations in EMEA and Asia. From a product perspective, there are many challenges to be addressed at the access edge. Our key to success will be to stay true to our vision of working at the application level to provide a single point of security, control, monitoring, and management of real-time services.

RT: What gets you most excited about the real-time communications industry today?

BO: From our position in the network we are exposed to how the major application providers — Avaya (News - Alert), Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, and others — are advancing real-time communications and collaboration. It is obvious to us that we are entering the next phase of the evolution of real-time communications. In this phase, rich, multi-modal IP-based real-time services reach all the way to end users, and these services will transform how we communicate and collaborate. Participating in that transformation is tremendously exciting to our team. But, most importantly, it is the satisfaction we get from building a solution that allows our customers to overcome very complex problems to reach their business goals.

Rich Tehrani is President and Editor in Chief at TMC.

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