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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[February 6, 2004]


By Art Rosenberg & Blair Pleasant

Avaya IP Voice Mail Goes Mod(ular)

Several years ago, before VoIP and IP telephony became “real,” we were asked about how an enterprise should go about migrating to unified messaging (UM) and unified communications (UC). Our suggestion then was to replace legacy voice mail systems with newer “UC/UM-enabled” voice mail systems, because older voice mail systems were too difficult to “integrate” with e-mail. Unfortunately, however, TDM-based “UM” systems were also functionally limited, too hardware intensive, and too expensive to cost-justify in the recent economic downturn of the industry. This made the market migration of voice mail to unified-messaging far from a raging success.

Why are voice mail systems so critical to the enterprise? It’s not just because of mailbox-to-mailbox messaging, because public (text) e-mail, and now Instant Messaging (IM), offer other and sometimes more appropriate mailbox messaging alternatives. It is really still the old “telephone answering” real-time functionality that originally propelled voice mail in the eighties that is still most critical in today’s business operations.

Voice mail systems improved upon the old answering machine capabilities by providing the ability to selectively play recorded information to callers (like an IVR), route calls to other phone numbers, forward caller voice messages to other mailboxes and for recipients to reply with a voice message (to other subscribers) or initiate a call return to the caller. History has shown us that voice messaging may also be preferred over text messaging when urgency, tone or privacy is considered. With new, SIP-based intelligence, enhanced software-based voice mail servers will continue to play an important tactical role in the spectrum of mobile, multi-modal communications applications for enterprise end users.

In the meantime, VoIP networking and IP telephony servers have matured enough to cost-efficiently support converged communication applications, including traditional voice mail servers. Now, with the migration of PBXs and key systems to IP-based platforms, and the rapid growth of handheld mobile communications that demand converged unified communications (UC) within the enterprise, it is becoming practical to consider that first migration step once more.

This time, however, there are greater benefits in store from IP-based infrastructure, not only for users, but also for technology support, and the enterprise as a whole. The key, of course, is providing flexible “graceful migration” choices for any enterprise situation, and Avaya, as a leading telecommunications provider with the largest installed base of telephone system customers, came up with their next-generation, IP-based voice mail system, they call Modular Messaging.

Before describing the flexibility of Modular Messaging implementations, it is appropriate to note why the migration to IP-based voice mail is a practical consideration for every enterprise

·        It enables cost-efficient implementation of unified messaging (UM) and unified communication (UC) functionality.

·        It reduces hardware costs by eliminating the need to support dedicated TDM facilities, and instead leverage the customer’s existing data network.

·        IP networking enables networked centralization for support and maintenance of remote locations and maximum service continuity.

·        IP-based servers enable great scalability, providing consistent functionality enterprise-wide, regardless of the size requirements of the local site.

·        With IP-access, gateways, legacy voice mail and telephony servers can interoperate cost-efficiently with newer “communication application” servers.

The bottom-line is that “it is not a matter of if, but when” every enterprise will have to start their migration to IP communication infrastructures; the telecommunications industry is not going to support TDM-based technologies forever. The cost of staying with old technology will start increasing. So, the trick to practical migration is to find the most flexible offering that fits with both your current investments and various user needs and start your planning now!

In December 2003, Avaya announced the latest version of its Modular Messaging product. Avaya stresses that Modular Messaging is about the flexibility of choice -- customers can design it to fit their individual technology environments, migration priorities, and “communication application“ needs and preferences, all with a minimum of risk or capital investment. At the same time, from a practical provider perspective, Avaya is also migrating its diverse TDM-based voice mail products from the past (Octel, Audix) into a common developmental software base, which should expedite the merger of Avaya’s Unified Messenger product with Modular Messaging. The price for Modular Messaging is 10-15 percent lower than for the Unified Messenger product and the seat price is comparable.

Avaya offers a basic Message Application Server (MAS) front-end with a choice of voice message storage back ends. Modular Messaging customers can choose between Avaya’s own Message Storage Server (MSS) or use one of two e-mail server storage (IBM Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange) back ends. There are three flavors of Modular Messaging -- voice mail only, unified and unified -- software only, where the customer provides the MAS or back-end platforms. With e-mail server storage back ends, the Modular Messaging offer will be either the software-only option or included as part of Avaya’s front-end server -- the Message Application Server (MAS).

Part 2

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