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June 01, 2007

Service Oriented Communications: The Next Stage of VoIP Evolution

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor

Earlier this month, Microsoft (News - Alert) jumped fully into the unified communications arena with its announcement, at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Los Angeles, of a new product line designed to converge business phones with e-mail, instant messaging, real-time presence information, conferencing, VoIP and mobile communications.
Given Microsoft’s acquisition in March of TellMe Networks, the latest unified communications news isn’t that big a surprise. But what lies ahead for Microsoft? One VoIP-related area that the company could focus on in the future is service oriented architecture, or SOA for short.
That’s what Todd Landry (TL), senior vice president of Sphere Communications (News - Alert) thinks is a likely scenario. Why? It has to do with the evolution of converged communications—bringing voice and data together on the same network.
TMCnet.com asked Landry to elaborate on his prediction that Microsoft is headed in the direction of SOA, and what this means for both the industry generally and Sphere Communications specifically.
TMCnet: In what capacity, if any, does Sphere Communications partner with Microsoft on communications solutions?
TL: Sphere is a long-standing development partner with Microsoft, building communications solutions that are integrated with Microsoft business environments (Windows Server, Windows Exchange, Windows XP/Vista, Microsoft LCS, Microsoft Windows Messenger, Microsoft CRM, etc.).
TMCnet: What is the significance of Microsoft’s announcement expanding its unified communications initiatives?
TL: It is further evidence that software solutions will be the primary method for enterprise communications solutions in the industry.
TMCnet: What’s the connection between unified communications and service oriented architecture (SOA)?
TL: Unified communications is the concept of multiple forms of communications capabilities within and among businesses and people becoming more unified, in that they inter-work together better and they come together to allow people-to-people collaboration occur with less friction.
Systems that provide such unified communications will also need to provide access to their communications services utilizing methods that are more aligned with business applications, as opposed to telecom APIs or protocols. This will allow these unified communications systems to operate within the context of an SOA.
Service Oriented Architecture defines the framework under which one or more business applications can utilize the services of each other, therefore allowing defined business processes to be implemented as software transactions/interactions among these different business applications.
TMCnet: What do you see as the two phases of VoIP technology’s evolution so far?
TL: The following diagram illustrates three phases of voice over IP evolution for the enterprise:
Unified Communications/VoIP Evolution
TMCnet: What do you see as the next, third, phase of VoIP evolution, and how does this phase relate to unified communications and SOA?
TL: The next phase, as illustrated in the chart above, is “Service-Orientation” of communications capabilities within the enterprise.
TMCnet: Why and how are today’s CIOs rethinking the best ways to leverage information technology?
TL: CIO’s are being challenged, as officers of their companies, to find new ways to contribute to the effectiveness of the business utilizing technology. This includes more than simply cutting IT costs, and in fact it has become more an issue of finding more ways to utilize technology as a strategic weapon to differentiate the business. As it relates to communications, CIOs will then look at people-to-people collaboration as a key element of successful business decision and transaction processes and are looking for ways to lower the friction in this collaboration.
TMCnet: What impact do you see SOA having in the future on resellers who offer IP communications solutions?
TL: Resellers that become versed in Web-services technologies will has a great opportunity to add value to these open platforms. In fact, the approaches with Web services standards will make it easier for resellers, ISVs, and integrators to provide verticalized solutions for their customers. We anticipate further cooperation among business application consultants/resellers and traditional IT/VoIP resellers where their combined strengths under service-oriented communications creates a unique set of offerings for their clients.
TMCnet: What role do you see SOA playing in the future growth of VoIP?
TL: Service-oriented communications will become a fundamental requirement for any vendor offering solutions. This service-orientation will have requirements drive from the decision makers in an enterprise that are defining the SOA for the business, therefore vendors will be required to align with these approaches—proprietary APIs and telecom-centric protocols will not be acceptable means of service-orientation.
TMCnet: What else do you see ahead for unified communications, SOA, and VoIP?
TL: Enterprise communications is on the fast path to an “All-Software” solution, where carriers are now offering IP connectivity that eliminates the need for on-premise gateway hardware and true service-oriented communications will operate in the back office, on standard server and operating system technology. Further, we see that the evolution of “IP Multimedia Services” within carrier infrastructures will enable a scalable model for Federating business communications, which will further the unification of communications among businesses. 
These combined changes are creating the next eco-communications-system that will emerge in the form of communications embedded within the context of all business applications that significantly lower the friction for people-to-people collaboration.
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To learn even more about unified communications and SOA, check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents free to registered users.

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. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.

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