February 2010 | Volume 13 / Number 2
An Enterprising Idea: New Survivability Solution Strikes Balance between Centralized, Distributed Intelligence
By: Paula Bernier
The rise of hosted solutions has prompted many businesses and service providers to consider, and sometimes embrace, centralized architectures in which telecommunications-related smarts are moved away from branch office locations and into headquarter hubs.
This kind of setup is attractive because it can result in significant savings in terms of gear and connectivity, and fewer maintenance hassles, for the enterprise. On the other hand, it opens the door to potential reliability and survivability concerns. For example, how can a branch office dial E911 or, for that matter, run its business in the event of a WAN outage? Unless special provisions are made for this kind of scenario, the answer is: It can’t.
However, AudioCodes (News - Alert) and Avaya have come together to deliver a hybrid solution that offers many of the benefits of centralized architectures, yet puts some smarts out at the branch offices to enable them to retain connectivity even if the wide area network goes dark.
“There’s a trend to centralize applications, but that trend has to do something to improve reliability and survivability for remote offices,” says Alan Percy (News - Alert), director of market development at AudioCodes.
“On paper pure hosted looks great, but it’s academic in a sense that it’s not based in the real world,” he adds.
As noted above, a completely centralized approach in which all of the network smarts are at the headquarters can lead to a scenario in which an office is left without connectivity. At the other end of the spectrum is the option to put a complete PBX (News - Alert) or similar solution at each branch. But that’s an expensive proposition, notes Percy.
“Either end of the spectrum isn’t the right answer,” he concludes. “Instead, it takes a balanced approach to get cost savings, functionality and then survivability.”
AudioCodes and Avaya (News - Alert) have been able to strike that balance by engineering a solution that embeds intelligence into Avaya phones so they can access in an automated way the SIP proxy feature within an AudioCodes’ gateway at each branch location. The companies refer to this hybrid architecture as the Survivable Intelligent Edge, or SIE.
Leslie Levy, senior solution manager at Avaya, explains that on a normal day a customer network based on this architecture would employ call control at the Avaya core solution, Aura, to manage SIP-based endpoints. (Aura is a session-based SIP platform introduced last year. It comes bundled with unified messaging applications such as messaging, conferencing and mobility. The company also now is testing the Avaya-AudioCodes solution with Aura Session Manager, its next-generation SIP platform that allows for centralized SIP trunking and large dial plans.) Meanwhile, the AudioCodes gateway at the branch office would enable SIP endpoints to interface with the PSTN as well as with analog station ports for stuff like credit card machines, fax machines and paging applications, she says.
However, if the WAN connection is lost, special firmware embedded in the Avaya phones automatically reregisters those devices to survivability mode via the AudioCodes gateways with Standalone Survivability, or SAS (News - Alert), functionality. That way, those customer phones can continue both making calls to each other and to the external world over a PSTN connection, Levy explains, although in this scenario the phones would have only a subset of the features they typically enjoy when not in survivability mode.
“SAS is essentially a SIP proxy embedded in the gateway,” notes Percy of AudioCodes.
This survivability scenario can work in a variety of customer network setups, Levy says, explaining it can take place whether a customer is using distributed trunking, or a mix of distributed and local trunking. She adds that some customers may also elect to route all of their 911 calls to their gateways for transport of those emergency calls over the PSTN, even if the WAN is available.
Later, when the wide area network is reactivated, she explains, the phones automatically detect that and register themselves back to the core, with no manual intervention.
One early customer enjoying the AudioCodes/Avaya solution is MECCA Services out of Des Moines, Iowa. MECCA is a community-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of substance use conditions, mental health concerns, HIV/AIDS, problem gambling and the enhancement of behavioral health.
MECCA was interested in replacing an existing PBX solution, which it found cumbersome and expensive, with a more cost-efficient, customer- and productivity-friendly hosted solution to serve its 11 offices. The organization ultimately opted for a solution involving Avaya Aura for Midsize Enterprises, and AudioCodes MP-114 and MP-118 SIP gateways to reduce networking costs. It was supplied by NACR, an Avaya Platinum BusinessPartner.
“When we decided to re-develop our own system, we just couldn’t face having to utilize so much hardware again and putting in a lot of system maintenance time,” says Todd Yelland, IT manager for MECCA. “We wanted to find a solution that would give us a small footprint, a reliable infrastructure, cost efficiencies, and ease of management for our small IT team.”
Yelland adds that MECCA was surprised at the number and applications it could run on one server with the Avaya Aura solution. “At the same time,” he adds, “we were interested in the option to use SIP trunking because it affords added simplicity and firmly establishes us in what we believe will be the technology of the future.”
The savings MECCA will realize in recurring fees alone will pay for the system in three years, but other benefits mean the ROI will be even shorter. Those additional benefits include both the productivity and customer care benefits previously noted as well as the advantages of a small footprint, which translates into lower capex and opex; ease of deployment and management; AudioCodes SIP survivability in remote locations; and centralized SIP trunking and applications for scalability and simplicity. IT
Value Created for MECCA with the AudioCodes/Avaya Solution
By: Paula Bernier
Savings and return on investment
MECCA no longer pays a monthly fee and service charges to a hosted provider. Recurring fees to the hosted provider would easily pay for the new Avaya (News - Alert) solution within three years, but the actual ROI time will be much shorter based on savings related to travel and other costs, and increases in staff productivity.
AudioCodes (News - Alert) MP-114 gate¬ways were utilized at each site to provide an important boost to network reliability via the embedded Stand-Alone Survivability feature. SAS (News - Alert) allows MECCA to continue opera¬tions in situations in which SIP trunks, WAN or Avaya Aura servers are unavailable. The AudioCodes MP-114 gateways with SAS would automatically assume control and continue phone-to-phone dialing and access to the PSTN for each remote site. This architecture reduces risk and improves reliability while also reducing operational costs and telephony access charges.
Scalability and investment security
The Avaya Aura solution for Midsize Enterprises can scale to 2400 users. The MECCA IT team plans to base its future communications needs on SIP technology, and Avaya Aura System Platform virtualization technology will provide a strong stable, reliable, and flexible foundation for them to do so.
Smaller footprint/”green” benefits/ease of management.
The MECCA IT team is very pleased with the minimal amount of hardware required to operate its solution. It provides them with the capability to perform moves, adds, and changes easily, usually without travelling. Administrator utilities will enable them to troubleshoot and deploy new applications. One of the greatest benefits over MECCA’s first system, according to Yelland, is not having to install updates on multiple servers.
Mobility, hoteling, and home office capabilities
MECCA’s employees travel frequently, covering distances of up to 120 miles between facilities. One of the IT team’s next priorities is to enable staff to log into the network at any MECCA loca¬tion and access messages and other functionality of the main system. They are also preparing to deploy Avaya Extension to Cellular. This feature enables incoming calls to ring at both an office and cell phone simultaneously; and when a call is answered on the cell phone, the user can access virtually all functionality of the communications system. Softphones will also be used for home office work. Receptionists at two main locations will be able to connect easily to staff, no matter where they are located, and users will be able to keep in touch with clients and colleagues at all times, regardless of location, weather conditions, and other circumstances that might otherwise dis¬rupt the delivery of vital human services.
Unified communications capabilities to enhance productivity and client services
Yelland predicts significant enhancements in productivity and client services, delivered through the power of unified communications. Avaya Aura will enable MECCA to leverage applications such as presence, meet-me conferencing, instant messaging, and an integration with Microsoft (News - Alert) Office Communicator to enable the delivery of voice messages, e-mail, and faxes through the Exchange server via the PC. MECCA is also looking at deploying applications that will enhance their ability to serve more people more efficiently through distance treatment modalities that may involve conferencing.
Today @ TMC
ITEXPO West 2012
October 2- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
The World's Premier Managed Services and Cloud Computing Event
Click for Dates and Locations
Mobility Tech Conference & Expo
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
Cloud Communications Summit
October 3- 5, 2012
The Austin Convention Center
LatinComm Conference and Expo Speakers Address Burgeoning IP Communications Business Opportunities in Latin America