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January 1999

rich.gif (5262 bytes) Industrial Computers: The Foundation for Internet Telephony


I recently became a homeowner for the first time. While the house I purchased needed some work (what house doesn't?) the price and location were right. More important, it was built on a solid foundation. Sure enough, within a month after purchasing my house, I discovered a flood in my basement. A pipe with a pinhole leak was launching scalding hot water across my basement. So much for the excitement of fixing up an old house.

I recently had a new furnace installed and after a cursory examination of the plumbing, I determined that the leaking pipe was carrying water from the furnace. I called the plumber who installed the furnace and he told me that he couldn't come to my house for a few days but it was a simple problem that I could handle. I relished the challenge and proceeded to listen to my plumber's step by step instructions. A quick trip to the hardware store and 20 dollars later, I entered my house with a renewed vigor and enthusiasm that was quickly dampened by 200-degree water flooding my basement with the force of a tropical storm. After much time, effort, and energy, I sealed the leaking pipe with a metal and rubber patch.

Fixing and remodeling our homes is a national pastime. I'm not sure how many TV shows focus on this topic, but it seems to me that the fascination has become an obsession. Personally, I will leave the contractor work to those qualified whenever possible. Still, I am glad I had this experience. I learned a great deal from it.

The first thing I learned was the most basic of maxims: The proper tool for the proper job. Also, every tool requires proper guidance in how to use the tool. Without the plumber's advice and the right supplies, there was no way at all that I was going to fix the pipe. In fact, my inexperience in using the tools he suggested almost resulted in multiple burns. Thankfully I emerged unscathed. This time.

The second thing I learned is that a house is like any other intricate, interrelated system. From the human body to our nation's highways - everything is interconnected, and any modification to one part of the system affects all other parts of the system. In this case, the new furnace produced water at higher temperatures and with more pressure than my previous furnace. When I installed the state-of-the-art, energy-efficient furnace, I did not take into account that the existing furnace pipes were old and rusted. I had upgraded one system but I didn't pay any attention to the other parts of the system.

This was a big mistake. Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. We all know sports cars need premium gas and high-performance tires. A nice suit demands a nice tie. A good wine accompanies a fine meal. As I recently reminded our MIS department, my new 450 MHz motherboard needs a very fast hard disk and so on.

So it strikes me as quite odd when I hear developers developing telephony applications on anything but an industrial computer. It is simply irresponsible to use a plain vanilla PC or even a name-brand corporate computer for a mission-critical application such as telephony.

Dialogic Corp. develops and sells computer and Internet telephony boards in huge volume. Whenever I visit Dialogic's laboratories, I see their products being tested exclusively on industrial computers. I asked Howard Bubb, Dialogic's president, what his opinion was of the use of industrial computers in Internet telephony applications.

"Industrial chassis are ideal for computer telephony servers or IP Telephony gateways for several reasons," he replied. "Industrial chassis generally have higher quality power supplies, more bus slots and more cooling power. Increasingly large systems, many with complex signal processing requirements, are being built with open systems. High quality power supplies means that the voltage is more consistent and the power supply more durable.

"More bus slots means a system can be deployed that handles hundreds or even thousands of telephony interfaces. And more cooling power means that the increased number of boards will continue to function fine in a telco environment. This all helps to support the trend we have seen for the last ten years of computer telephony open systems replacing proprietary systems, since the industrial chassis allow more robust and more reliable systems to be built and deployed."

In addition, consider that industrial computers are designed with multiple power supplies and multiple RAID hard disk enclosures from the start. Hard disks and power supplies don't fail often but they do inevitably fail and in telephony systems, failure is simply unacceptable. Another benefit of industrial computers is that their manufacturers are typically a bit more conservative about selling "bleeding edge" technology. These manufacturers are inclined to sell products that already have the bugs worked out of them. Finally, industrial computer systems usually consist of passive backplanes and single-slot computer boards. This is an ideal configuration for rapid installation, repair, upgrades, and expansion of PC-based telephony systems.

Indeed, industrial computer companies are doing extremely well serving the needs of the telephony market whether it is CTI or Internet telephony development. This is an extremely important market for these vendors because telephony by its very nature is so mission-critical that it demands 24x7 availability.

An added benefit of industrial computer-based telephony - as opposed to traditional telephony traveling over a PBX - is that the cost for redundancy is decreased due to the mass production of PCs. Even if your PBX is available with redundant systems, you will pay for it and pay dearly. PBX makers must recoup their development costs and they sell in small volumes compared to the PC market.

Any builder will tell you that a solid foundation is important in the construction of any building. The same is true of telephony applications. The foundation is the computer that your application runs on and if it isn't sound, neither is your product. Make sure that you use industrial computers for all of your telephony development and you will be assured that you've done your part to ensure a trouble-free telephony environment. Now, if we could only purchase a version of Industrial Windows NT we would be all set.

Announcing Internet Telephony Expo!

It’s incredible how fast the Internet telephony market is growing. The forecasts are staggering and many predictions see this market at billions and billions of dollars in the next few years. In order to help the industry take advantage of all the opportunities possible in the Internet telephony market, we are proud to announce the launch of Internet Telephony Expo, October 6-8, 1999, at the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, CA.

Internet Telephony Expo is dedicated to the convergence of voice, video and fax and data and is focused on providing information for service providers, resellers, developers and enterprise users of Internet telephony.

This event is the first and only event of its kind focusing on Internet telephony sponsored by TMC and INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine.

Internet Telephony Expo’s conference track was constructed by drawing on the most knowledgeable experts in the field — the editors of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. The engineers of TMC Labs assisted our editors with their in-depth experience and understanding of the market’s educational needs. The sessions themselves will be a full 90 minutes long and will be packed with the most objective and in-depth education possible. Conference attendees will leave the conference program with the knowledge needed to implement Internet telephony solutions.

As an added draw for all attendees, TMC Labs will be demonstrating Internet telephony interoperability, connecting a range of Internet telephony devices from various vendors together. Standards continue to be a major factor in Internet telephony acceptance and this demonstration promises to be a major draw.

The Hotel Del Coronado is Southern California’s only oceanfront resort. Consisting of breathtaking views and a history that dates back to 1888, the hotel is world-renowned and loved. Internet Telephony Expo ends on a Friday, October 8th, so you may choose to stay the weekend in beautiful San Diego with your family. The timing and location of Internet Telephony Expo are perfect and we expect record attendance at this event. Space is limited due to Internet Telephony Expo’s exclusive resort location. We strongly urge you to make your reservations immediately to assure that there will be space.

Please visit our Web site at www.itexpo.com for more information.

The Voice/Data Switch: NetPhone’s IPBX

I recently paid a visit to NetPhone, one of the original PC PBX manufacturers, and witnessed an extremely impressive demonstration of the reliability of their PC PBX. NetPhone uses their own boards with full PBX switch software built in. This allows the PC PBX to function even if the operating system or other server software crashes. Upon booting the PC PBX into DOS, NetPhone’s PC PBX is capable of the following:

  • Receiving Inbound calls.
  • Making Outbound calls.
  • Making extension to extension calls.
  • Transferring calls.
  • Conferencing calls.
  • Holding calls.
  • Call Waiting.

Obviously hard disk dependent applications like voice mail will most likely not work if the OS crashes, but the PBX does indeed perform as promised — working flawlessly while the server software is not running or the server goes into a BSOD (Blue screen of death).

Last month I shared with you Lucent’s   announcement of their IPES voice/data switch. NetPhone has a voice/data switch of their own, which they call the IPBX. To put it simply, a voice/data switch is a PBX that switches voice as well as data. Typically based on IP but often encompassing ATM voice transmission, voice/data switches can also include such features as a LAN hub, router, firewall, and unified messaging. The bottom line requirement of any voice/data switch is that it switches both voice and data and offers call control and other traditional PBX functions. An IP-based PBX by definition is a voice/data switch.

NetPhone’s voice/data switch has some unique features built into it. Already known for functioning reliably regardless of OS or other errors, NetPhone faced its challenge in creating a voice/data switch that can function as reliably over the Internet as the PSTN. The solution for NetPhone is to constantly monitor telephone calls over the IP network whether they travel over the Internet or any other network. As soon as the call quality degrades below a preset threshold, a call to the same party is made over the PSTN. Once the PSTN call is connected, NetPhone conferences both sides of the call to the PSTN connection and drops the IP connection. The call is not interrupted but I would guess that there will be at least a slightly audible trace of the call being switched. This feature requires NetPhone equipment at both ends of the call to function properly.

In case the IP connection is completely severed without warning, NetPhone plays a recording alerting the callers that it will soon reconnect the call. Again a PSTN call is made and the call resumes as before. Just as with their PC PBX, NetPhone’s IPBX functions reliably over any IP-based network even if NT or other important server software crashes, since the switch software is running on the boards themselves. I consider reliability and redundancy to be major factors in the success of voice/data switches and I commend NetPhone for building these into their product from the start.

CTI Expo Spring 1999: It’s Just Around The Corner!

We are absolutely ecstatic about the incredible growth of CTI™ Expo. The attendee growth is absolutely staggering. As I write this, we are less than 10 days away from the CTI™ Expo Fall 1998 in San Jose California. The pre-registered attendance numbers are blowing us away. The Web traffic on our site relating to CTI™ Expo alone will cause us to more than double the speed of our Internet connection just to accommodate the surge of attendees registering and learning about CTI™ Expo online. We will easily top 12,000 attendees for a first-time West Coast show. Incredible! We have already geared up for CTI™ Expo Spring 1999, May 24-26 in Washington DC. This is our first ever event in DC and we can’t wait to bring CTI™ Expo to our nation’s capital.

At our first-ever CTI™ Expo (Spring 98) in Baltimore we expected 3,000 attendees and were pleasantly surprised when over 8,000 showed up. The interest in CTI™ Expo has been beyond even our wildest expectations. First-time shows rarely have this number of attendees. The CTI market is absolutely on fire and there is no end in sight. The product announcements keep getting more impressive, the new players become more aggressive and the depth and breadth of new products at CTI™ Expo continue to overwhelm the attendees.

CTI™ Expo Spring 1999 will have 5 Learning Centers including one brand-new one focusing on voice/data switches. This will be a great Learning Center to visit as you will get first-hand information on this burgeoning field that is only months old.

One of the highlights of CTI™ Expo will be the two keynoting companies that are constantly pitted by the media (including us) as being huge competitors in the future. Of course I am referring to Lucent and Cisco. As telephony begins to travel with more frequency over IP networks, Cisco has begun to stake a big claim in the converged voice/data territory. Lucent has also introduced a wealth of products that encompass converged voice/data networks.

Barbara Reeder, Lucent’s VP of Global Marketing Communications will be speaking on Wednesday May 26 at 10:00 AM. Barbara has been in the telecommunications industry for over 20 years and is intimately involved in Lucent’s role in the world of voice and data convergence. Lucent has a whole host of voice/data breakthroughs such as Internet telephony enabled PBXs, Internet telephony development tools, voice/data switches, CTI products and advanced call center technologies. There is perhaps no better visionary to outline the future of the converging world of voice and data than a Barbara Reeder of Lucent.

Cisco’s Peter Alexander was one of our keynotes at the first-ever CTI™ Expo Spring 1998 in Baltimore. Since then, Peter has been promoted from the Internet Telephony division of Cisco to the Director of Enterprise Marketing. Cisco’s decision to put Peter — with his years of telephony experience — in such a crucial role in the organization demonstrates their desire to become a leader in voice switching just as they are a leader in the router market.

This year, Peter will be delivering the keynote for Tuesday, May 25th at 10:00 AM. Lucent and Cisco will no doubt be fighting hard for market share in 1999. CTI™ Expo is the best place to learn how the visionaries at both Cisco and Lucent view the converged world of voice and data and how you can benefit from the many new opportunities on the horizon. Visit our Web site at www.ctiexpo.com.

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