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September 28, 2006

SphereCSE with Web Services Makes Communications Software Development Easier, Faster

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor

Sphere Communications recently introduced its Communications Services Engine (SphereCSE), a unified communications and IP PBX (News - Alert) softtware development platform targeted at original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), independent software vendors (ISVs), and software developers.
SphereCSE features Web Services, based on industry-standard XML and SOAP technologies to present a comprehensive IP communications and call control feature set. The result is a platform that enables developers to build complex applications with integrated IP communications in less time and without the need for expertise in the underlying communications technologies than was previously possible.
To find out more about SphereCSE, TMCnet spoke with Andy Mercker, Director of Marketing at Sphere.
At the Core
Mercker started off by explaining that SphereCSE, the core technology used in the Sphericall IP PBX, is now available on a licensed basis for OEMs, ISVs, and other developers.
Sphere made its core engine available in response to requests from companies looking for a reliable, scalable engine on which to build new IP communications capabilities and applications. In particular, Mercker said, there is a need for an easy way to integrate multiple applications.
“Sphericall is one just implementation of what the engine can do,” he noted. “SphereCSE addresses a wide range of applications that can benefit by leveraging unified communications.”
The Power of Web Services
“The thing that makes what we're doing really compelling is the implementation of Web services in our software,” Mercker told TMCnet.
Mercker stressed that the term “Web services” doesn't refer simply to applications developed and accessed using a Web browser. Instead, it refers to a set of high-level capabilities that “enable access to enterprise applications without having to get to the source code level, we make it much easier to leverage a proven and reliable communications platform.”
Those capabilities are delivered using XML and SOAP, making development both easier and faster.
“SphereCSE allows people to do customized development work without having to be an expert in all the core technologies they are tying together,” Mercker explained.
He added that the “services” part of “Web services” refers to applications being presented as services to other applications.
“Web services have been around for a number of years,” Mercker noted. “Microsoft (News - Alert) is putting a huge amount of effort behind this with its .NET initiative.”
Using Web services, SphereCSE provides a language-neutral and platform-neutral system for building applications. For example, developers could take a Java-based application running on Linux and tie in with a C# application running on Windows.
“Web services allows applications to talk to each other over the Internet, but also over LANs and WANs,” Mercker said.
Web Services + WDSL
SphereCSE includes a Web Services Definition Language (or WDSL) that is essentially software code that acts as a “contract” between Sphere's application and any other application that a developer wants to integrate. By importing Sphere's WSDL into their development tools, Mercker explained, developers can use relatively simple code to perform complex functions.
“This allows developers to work at a higher level that's abstracted from the underlying complexity of unified communications, and create new solutions faster,” he said.
Developer Example
“The market has matured to a point where the concept of unified communications is understood by vendors,” Mercker told TMCnet.com “They're looking at the next thing they want to build, and SphereCSE presents an ideal platform.”
One example of a vendor that used SphereCSE to simplify and speed up its development is PacStar. The company specializes in encrypted voice, data, security and video technologies. Among other clients, PacStar builds communications systems for U.S. Federal Government agencies including Department of Defense (DoD).
At the upcoming INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & Expo in San Diego, PacStar will be demonstrating an emergency communications system that it built—using SphereCSE—for the DoD. The system consists of bullet-proof, waterproof equipment that can fit into a Humvee and be quickly deployed.
“It's designed so that a soldier in the field can crack open the cases, stick an antenna in the ground, and have a communications system up and running in less than ten minutes,” Mercker explained.
He added that interest in this type of system has been expressed by customers in Gulf Coast states to establish communications during natural disasters.
PacStar used the SphereCSE core and built upon it to write an application designed so that it can be deployed in the field with a minimum of technical knowledge. Mercker noted that one reason PacStar went with Sphere is that the company's technology is DoD Joint Interoperability Test Command certified.
He added that using SphereCSE also allowed PacStart to dramatically speed up its development of the new system.
To learn more about Sphere’s IP communications software solutions, visit the company’s booth (#108) at INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & Expo, WEST, October 10-13, 2006 in San Diego.
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page.

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