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Mind Share
July 2001

Marc Robins

Enterprise Redux



How much, and at the same time, how little things change...A few years ago, the enterprise IP communications equipment market seemed boundless, as projections of the number of companies adopting IP telephony gateways reached for the skies.

The rationale made perfect sense. Then, as now, companies that were spread across the country with a number of branch offices or retail establishments with dozens or hundreds of store locations were thought to be perfect candidates for IP telephony adoption. Data networks that were used at night to upload sales data to headquarters, but lay dormant during the day, could be repurposed to transport voice communications -- bypassing the telcos and saving thousands -- and potentially millions -- of dollars in the process.

But as the enterprise market dragged its heels, carrying out IP telephony product and service due diligence to the nth degree, the service provider market segment started to generate some real heat, and real orders. System vendors answered the challenge by pouring millions into carrier-class system development, enticing carriers to test and trial to their hearts' content.

Problem is, the bottom fell out from many of the service providers' bottom lines, and the promised network-sized orders that the carriers dangled in the vendors' faces never materialized. Strapped for cash, unable to obtain new financing (on top of an already mountain-high pile of debt), a host of CLECs and incumbent carriers have halted their IP network migrations and are pulling back to refocus on the relatively safe, albeit low-margin POTS business they know oh so well.

Suddenly, in light of the wrenching slowdown in the service provider space, the enterprise market is looking hot again. What's different this time around? For one thing, a few years have passed and not only has LAN-based enterprise VoIP technology achieved a level of high quality and reliability in the interim, but it has also achieved some really interesting and highly affordable price points. For another, the big boys of telecom, from Avaya, Nortel, Siemens, Alcatel, Mitel, and the big boy of datacom -- Cisco -- have relentlessly been tweaking and honing their enterprise solutions to the point where I believe they are truly ready for prime time use. Helping to grease the wheels of adoption is that many of the telecom switch vendors provide VoIP upgrade options for their installed base of PBXs, offering a relatively painless migration path for the enterprise user looking to start embracing the future of communications technology.

Another point in enterprise VoIP's favor is, ironically, the economic slowdown itself. Companies are on an expense-cutting warpath, searching for any and all opportunities to pare down operating expenses. Enterprise VoIP technology is a ready-made expense-cutting solution for many medium-to-large businesses -- one that can typically offer an extremely short (3-6 month) payback period, and very meaningful communications savings from thereon out.

What follows is look at some of the most recent product announcements from a few of the big guns in the market.

The New Cisco Seven
Cisco Systems recently announced seven new software and hardware IP telephony products to help increase personal productivity and flexibility and reduce operational costs for corporate and branch office locations. These solutions take advantage of a new centralized voice services model, and includes the Cisco Personal Assistant, Unity 2.46 unified messaging, IP Integrated Contact Distribution (IP-ICD), the IP Phone Productivity Services (PPS) applications suite, CallManager 3.1 call processing system, and an innovative Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRS Telephony) feature that is now part of the Cisco IOS Software. On the hardware side, Cisco is introducing the Catalyst 4224 Voice Gateway Switch platform. All of the IP telephony components fit within Cisco's AVVID (Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data).

To help enterprises make sense of what's appropriate for their needs, Cisco has created a Web-based IP telephony readiness assessment tool that leads organizations through a series of questions tailored to their IP telephony deployment models. For more information about this tool, visit http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/788/solution_guide.

To address the need for redundancy in centralized call-processing environments, Cisco offers its new SRS Telephony solution. The solution serves as insurance in the event of WAN failure by intelligently auto-configuring Cisco multiservice routers to provide call-processing backup for IP phones in branch offices. Call processing is maintained during failures, ensuring that the IP phones are fully available and operational. Upon restoration of the WAN and connectivity to the network, the system automatically shifts call-processing functions back to a centrally located Cisco CallManager. SRS Telephony is available on the 2600 and 3600 Series modular, multiservice routers and the new Catalyst 4224 Voice Gateway Switch. 

Cisco also announced a number of new software-based products, including the Personal Assistant. This IP-based telephony application streamlines voice communications with personal call rules and speech recognition. Personal Assistant interoperates with CallManager and Microsoft Exchange to allow users to verbally sort through voice mail and dial by name. Users can also establish conference calls from any telephone using voice commands instead of the telephone keypad. A browser-based interface allows users to set up rules for forwarding and screening calls in advance or in real time, without the assistance of a system administrator. With a speech recognition interface, users can use simple voice commands to retrieve, reply, record, skip, and delete messages. Calls can be forwarded to user-defined locations such as home, office, or mobile phones. 

Unity 2.46 unified messaging provides improved deployment and diagnostic support for large implementations, worldwide time zone and language support, and enhanced international localization capabilities. It interoperates with both CallManager 3.1 and Personal Assistant. 

Rounding out the new personal productivity solutions is the IP Phone Productivity Services (PPS). This suite of extensible markup language (XML)-based applications turns Cisco 7960 and 7940 IP phones into Internet thin-client devices that provide access to an array of information on corporate and Internet Web servers. Using interactive soft keys and LCD displays, users have access to e-mail, voice mail, calendar information, stock quotes, weather, and personal contact information. In addition, a development suite known as the E-Service Application Engine provides an open environment in which developers can create new applications targeted at specific business needs in various vertical markets such as travel, financial services, and education. 

To enhance customer response service in small call-center operations within an enterprise, Cisco's IP Integrated Contact Distribution (IP-ICD) solution includes automated voice call distribution and supports custom contact interaction management for up to 48 concurrent agents. IP-ICD is one in a series of solutions built around the E-Service Application Engine. The IP-ICD seamlessly integrates with other Customer Response Applications, including IP Interactive Voice Response and IP Automated Attendant applications. 

Cisco's upgraded CallManager 3.1, the most recent version of the software-based call-processing system, adds 15 new valuable features, including music on hold, gateway call preservation, application redundancy, and extension mobility, which allows an employee's phone extension, and all the properties associated with the extension, to be transferred to any 7960 or 7940 IP phone within a campus cluster through a simple log-on process. 

And finally, reducing capital and labor costs are the primary objectives of the new Catalyst 4224 Voice Gateway Switch, an integrated Ethernet switching, IP routing, and voice gateway device that is targeted at small branch offices with up to 24 users. The Catalyst 4224 can be used with SRS Telephony to provide backup services in the event of a WAN failure.

The new Cisco IP telephony solutions available now include SRS Telephony, Personal Assistant, Unity 2.46, the Catalyst 4224 Voice Gateway Switch, and the IP-ICD. SRS Telephony starts at $750 for up to 24 users. Cisco Personal Assistant is $4995 and includes the IP Phone Productivity Services suite. Unity 2.46 starts at $145 per seat. A voicemail only version is also available. The IP-ICD is $4995. The Catalyst 4224 is $12,995 and CallManager 3.1 is $5995. The IP Phone Productivity Services suite will be available with CallManager 3.1 in the third quarter of 2001. All of the new software applications are available on the MCS 7835-1000 Media Convergence Server and the new MCS 7825-800.

Mitel Networks' New Integrated Communications Platforms
Mitel Networks recently unveiled three new IP-based solutions that leverage the technology of March Networks: the March Networks 3100 Integrated Communications Platform (ICP); March Networks 3300 Integrated Communications Platform (ICP); and March Networks 6530 speech-enabled unified messaging for Microsoft Exchange 2000.

The 3100 ICP is an all-in-one complete voice communications system, Local Area Network (LAN) and Web-access solution for small business and branch offices. The system includes a fully featured hybrid key system, integrated auto-attendant, voicemail, router and power sensitive hub, IP-based telephony, and management tools and applications.

The 3300 Integrated Communications Platform (ICP) is designed for medium-to-large enterprises, and supports embedded features as voicemail and auto-attendant, automatic call distribution, enhanced networking and desktop management, and full support for IP wired and wireless telephone sets and devices.

Finally, March Networks 6530 is a speech-enabled unified messaging solution that allows users to access, review, manage, and respond to voicemail, e-mail, and fax messages in their Microsoft Exchange 2000 Inbox using their voice.

Nortel Networks' New Internet Telephony Enterprise Portfolio
Nortel Networks recently announced two new enterprise IP telephony solutions designed to add value to it's installed customer base of 43 million communications lines, positioning them to boost revenues, reduce network costs, and deliver new multimedia services and applications.

These new solutions are designed to enable enterprises of all sizes to migrate existing Meridian private branch exchange (PBX) and Norstar key systems to IP-enabled networks, while maintaining reliability associated with traditional voice systems. New and existing customers will have a choice of migrating to a "greenfield" installation of IP-enabled or pure-IP solutions.

The Succession Communications Server 1000 is a "pure IP PBX" Internet Telephony communications server for the enterprise, based on an open architecture, with IP as the common thread that will provide a full set of telephony-data capabilities. Its flexible, modular architecture will allow immediate implementation or a phased-migration approach.

Business Communications Manager Version 2.5, designed for small to medium-sized businesses and branch sites, brings Internet telephony to the desktop with the support of the i2004 Internet Telephone and the i2050 Soft Telephone. The new version also includes Nortel's e-mobility wireless solutions; a Web-enabled call center application; site-to-site Virtual Private Network (VPN) capability; and easy-to-use, Web-browser-based network management.

Marc Robins is vice president of publications at TMC and associate group publisher for INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. Marc has been covering the communications industry since 1980, and his column takes a look at some of the more interesting trends vying for attention in our industry. Please contact Marc with comments at mrobins@tmcnet.com.

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