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Unified Communications Magazine March 2008
Volume 1 / Number 5
Unified Communications Magazine
Richard Grigonis

Selecting Unified Communications Solutions

Until recently, deciding which UC solution was best to miraculously transform your organization was a matter of choosing between two worlds: The realm of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, Exchange Server 2007, Active Directory and Office Communicator 2007, or the Cisco empire of the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (deployable on the Cisco 7800 Series Media Convergence Servers or on third party servers by HP or IBM), Unified MeetingPlace, Unity messaging products, etc.

By Richard �Zippy� Grigonis

That’s not surprising, since both companies are enormous and pervasive in their own ways – Microsoft approaching UC as an all-encompassing software development challenge (“let us telephony-and-UC-enable everything on the desktop and everywhere else”), while Cisco, coming at it more from the hardware/networking side, has acquired the components it needs (including collaborative software companies such as WebEx) to assemble a spiffy businessoriented solution for its Cisco Service-Oriented Network Architecture (SONA), capable of delivering voice, video, data and mobility in a unified manner.

Ironically, there isn’t as quite as much overlap in Microsoft / Cisco functionality as you might think; indeed, in many instances they can be complementary, and some companies, such as HP Services and Spanlink Communications, work with customers to integrate their existing systems with both Microsoft and Cisco technologies if necessary. In fact, HP recently leveraged its own considerable global know-how and strategic alliances with Cisco and Microsoft to unveil a new HP Unified Communications (UC) portfolio that brings together voice, fax, email, voicemail, video/data/audio conferencing, collaboration, wireless and mobile technologies to boost workgroup productivity, regardless of where they are situated or what devices are being used.

Microsoft has a powerful ally in Nortel, whose UC products and services include everything from applicationaware networks (the Ethernet Routing Switch 8600, Secure Router Portfolio, Power Over Ethernet Switches, VPN Router Portfolio) to “Business-Grade Telephony (the Nortel Converged Office, Nortel Communication Server 1000, Nortel Communication Server 2100, Nortel Multimedia Communication Server 5100, IP Phones, Nortel Multimedia Client for IBM Lotus Notes), various applications, the Secure Multimedia Controller for security and various Unified Communications Services. Nortel has transformed their CallPilot messaging platform into a full-blown unified messaging solution for medium-to-large businesses using Meridian 1 PBX or Meridian SL-100 phone systems, Communication Server 1000, and/or CPE Centrex systems. Furthermore, the Multimedia Communication Server (MCS) 5100 is now a leading UC solution that integrates IP Telephony, multimedia conferencing, instant messaging, presence and other collaboration tools for employees. They also offer Nortel Multimedia Conferencing, a SIP-based, reservationless audio and videoconferencing solution that also integrates seamlessly with the Communication Server 1000 and Microsoft LCS/OCS, creating a UC environment for users.

Don’t Count Them Out…

Still, so much has been made of the Microsoft versus Cisco debate that we overlook the other players in the UC space, all of whom now realize that the age of unified communications and fixed-mobile convergence is upon us and who are scrambling to impress their existing customers with new offerings. Alcatel-Lucent, for example, offers the server-based OmniTouch Unified Communication suite of nextgen IP-based UC applications for enterprises. The suite is composed of four seamlessly-interacting UC applications: My Teamwork, My Messaging, My Phone and My Assistant. In concert they enable you to tailor, control and manage calls, messages, directories, collaborative work tools and information from any location using any device and any software interface. OmniTouch is based on standard Internet technologies (XML/SOAP, SIP and VXML) that integrate communication functions with the latest in Web Services to create a personalized though business-oriented communication environment. (Last October Alcatel-Lucent and Sagem Communications launched an embedded version of Sagem-Interstar’s XMediusFAX Fax-over-IP server technology within the Alcatel-Lucent OmniTouch UC suite, thus giving OmniTouch UC users a Fax-over-IP solution that they can use to, say, send and receive faxes directly from their email client.)

Recently, Alcatel-Lucent has taken an even more overall systems-based approach, with CEO Patricia Russo announcing the coming of the “Dynamic Enterprise”. Like an increasing number of other vendors, Alcatel-Lucent recognizes that broadband, UC and Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) changes the dynamics of enterprise communications and its impact on the competitive transformation of businesses. Alcatel-Lucent’s Dynamic Enterprise is an “agile, mobile, knowledgeable and responsive environment where Enterprise 2.0 applications and Alcatel-Lucent’s secure, always-on communication technologies strengthen business relationships, simplify communications, and improve enterprise performance”. In a Dynamic Enterprise, the collective knowledge generated through these technologies integrates with company networks, people and processes in real time to provide competitive differentiation.

Over at Avaya, their Unified Communications Standard Edition, designed for users wanting advanced mobility tools including unified office and mobile communications tools across all major mobile platforms, integrates with Microsoft Office Communicator and IBM Lotus Sametime, thus integrating presence information and telephony capabilities, Click-to-Communicate capability and access to directories and contacts. The system also offers seamless mobility features such as simultaneous ringing desk+ mobile phone, shift calls in progress between devices, and access to PBX and unified communications features from a mobile device. A single web-based client gives users access to telephony, voice messaging, audio conferencing, corporate directory information, and more. Teleworkers can even securely access their office phones and their features from a home or remote office via a VPN client on the deskphone.

And let’s not forget mighty Siemens, whose well-known OpenScape system allows a user to define his or her preferred devices for contact and the rules for how and when different colleagues can reach him or her directly. Open- Scape also provides information on the presence status, or availability of individuals and displays this information to approved colleagues via a portal. You can modify your own presence status at any time and from any device, ensuring important contacts can reach you. It all comes together through one number. You publish one number and Open- Scape will route all your contacts to your preferred device. Your Contact List shows you which contacts are available, by which media, and their situational status – in office, in meeting, on business trip, on vacation, etc – so you know who’s available before you call. If you like, presence status can be linked to your calendar, and updated accordingly.

OpenScape is built on an open business model and works with your existing voice and IT infrastructures, saving you the costs associated with replacing equipment. You can also get a toolkit to integrate it into your buiness applications.

Just as we went to press, Siemens announced major enhancements, and a new brand name – OpenScale™ – for its professional and managed services portfolio. They’re adding sophisticated videoconferencing and they’ll be investing their huge resources into strengthening their existing global service infrastructure, and accelerating their capabilities in delivering software-based, UC services.

Inventing and Reinventing

Recently, NEC has made a huge push into both upgrading their portfolio and making a major foray into the UC space. NEC Unified Solutions (www.necunified.com) offers various UC components such as the UNIVERGE UM8500 (the next-generation NEAXMail AD-120), a unified messaging platform for mid- to enterprise-size organizations that runs with a dedicated Microsoft Exchange server. It’s said to be the first unified messaging platform to offer a bundle of such advanced features as VideoMail, Find Me/Follow Me and Desktop Call Control. Microsoft Exchange is used to forward all voice, video, fax and email messages to Microsoft Outlook.

NEC also offers the UNIVERGE UM4730, ostensibly a PC-based voice messaging system that actually combines voicemail, an automated attendant, audio text and unified messaging functionality into a totally integrated business solution. Running the Linux operating system, the UM4730 is available in 2- to 32-port configurations and comes pre-licensed for 25 seats of unified messaging, 25 seats of the desktop call control and unlimited licenses of the mailbox management applications. The UM4730 also provides about 3,600 hours of voice storage and a logical mailbox limit of 65,000 voice mailboxes.

The UM4730 uses TeLANophy modules such as View- Mail, ViewMail for Microsoft Messaging and ViewCall Plus to integrate with your LAN and enable user control over incoming and outgoing calls via visual message management from the desktop PC. Optional feature packages to enhance the UM4730 include the TeLANophy modules that provide unified messaging and PC based call control, Text-to-Speech, ActiveNet networking capabilities, Hospitality and Property Management (PMS) integration and multi-lingual prompt sets. The UM4730 integrates via a single IP connection with the Univerge SV7000 server and the Univerge SV7000 Installation Manager utility, which provides quick, simple installation of personal voice mailboxes when assigning extensions to the SV7000.

To tackle mobility, NEC offers the WiFi-based UNIVERGE WL system, a “Converged Mobility Solution” enabling mobile terminals to deliver anywhere, anytime communications. The system is based on UNIVERGE WL Wireless Controllers, which coordinate security, RF management, intrusion detection, Quality of Service (QoS) and mobility functions across the wireless network. The UNIVERGE WL Wireless Controllers work in conjunction with NEC’s UNIVERGE WL Control System and UNIVERGE WL1250 Access Points.

Flexiblity is a Good Thing

One company that deals with various UC technologies and vendors is U4EA Technologies (www. u4eatech.com). U4EA’s Fusion Series of Multi- Service Business Gateways (MSBG) is a one-box solution sitting at the edge of the network that converges local, long-distance and Internet services; mixes voice, data, and video; and implements their Guarantee of Service (GoS) technology as well as downstream quality of service.

The Fusion Series can handle everything from SMBs up to service providers. The series consists of three families of products. The Fusion 200 and 400 series combine the functions of a router, switch, firewall, IDS, session controller, VoIP Gateway, QoS and OA&M into one device. (The Fusion 200 Series is for offices with up to 150 employees, the Fusion 400 Series handles offices with up to 500 employees.) The hefty Fusion 1000 Series is a family of signaling gateways that carriers and service providers use for legacy and next-gen protocol conversion. Fusion 1000 Series Signaling Gateways support legacy ISDN and CAS signaling.

Recently, U4EA released the Fusion 420 MSBG that comes with four Ethernet LAN interfaces, FXO/FXS ports and a T1 or E1 WAN interface, and integrates U4EA’s patented GoS and dual-power supplies for added reliability.

Ken Epps, U4EA’s CEO, says, “We’re a company that focuses on the data networking side of communications. We’re basically a provider of what we call a business gateway, more in the Customer Premise Equipment [CPE] family as an Integrated Access Device [IAD]. Its focus is to deliver converged or unified communications solutions to the network edge, principally to small and medium businesses. The most predominant device for managing some type of communications that is an ‘enabler’ is our computer, be it a desktop or laptop. UC brings a lot of capabilities through the ‘window’ of our computer – click-to-call, file sharing, instant messaging, audio calls and conferencing, whiteboarding – all of the typical communications that occur from one company to another involve computers.”

“We also see our business gateway as an enabler of these capabilities,” says Epps. “It’s used by service providers who are delivering communications and in some cases they want to expand and have the ability to deliver unified communications, but the fundamental capabilities for the U4EA product is delivering voice, data and video types of communications simultaneously to SMBs and end users by way of the device. By ‘service provider’ I mean anything ranging from traditional large telephony carriers such as AT&T to Verizon, or smaller integrated telephony suppliers such as BBTelsys or a VoiceNEXT or USA Datanet. The notion is that the service provider, independent of its size, should be able to deliver converged communications from their network to the users. By doing so, we provide them with an access device by which they can manage things from their network and yet it sits at the edge of the network at the end user, which in our case is an SMB, and through this device voice, data and video types of services can be delivered to the end user. So the small business on the other end will never have to invest in a lot of IT equipment and support on their own premise.

“As to how all this relates to unified communications,” says Epps, “our vision is that, clearly, the world moves closer and closer to what we truly realize to be unified communications, which is the integration of all of the types of communications that we use, whether it’s data, voice, video, messaging, sharing information simultaneously – really having the ability to have all of that integrated on whichever device that we happen to be using at a particular moment. That’s both our general definition of UC and a general opportunity for delivering UC.”

“Our ‘value-add’ is that if you assume that at any given time an end user will have the desire to use all of his capabilities simultaneously,” says Epps, “then you’re going to have some ‘choke points’ at the edge wherein QoS and the ability to deliver these types of capabilities will be compromised. If you’re talking about voice and data only, then you’ll have less of a QoS issue, because you can set your QoS parameters so that voice packets always get priority and data can just reconstitute itself upon arrival. But as we move farther down the path of converged communications, video becomes more prevalent in everything we do, whether its downloading YouTube videos or training videos, or just sitting at your desk and doing many things at the same time, so we’re now seeing more of a demand for the ability to set priorities and be able to determine what kind of QoS can be delivered and what priorities various services receive.”

“The U4EA solution is an enabler in terms of doing that; it’s principally predicated on QoS algorithms and capabilities which we call GoS [Guarantee of Service],” says Epps. “So QoS is a vital element of our platform, along with the other components such as routing, Internet access, firewalling and session control. Rolling all of these things together into our Fusion platform, we believe we have put a very powerful enabling device into the market that helps deal with some of these bandwidth management and other issues one encounters at the edge, that can slow the expansion of UC.”

“Looking at the ‘bigger picture’, we’re just an enabler, we’re one box in the overall system,” says Epps. “I feel there are two ways of looking at this: the enterprise play and the hosted play. When thinking of players in the industry, the ones that are really driving UC development, the group I immediately think of consists of, traditional PBX providers, principally Avaya, Cisco and Nortel, because certainly most medium-to-large enterprises – and to some degree smaller businesses – all have PBXs. They’ve been around for years, and their users haven’t all moved to a hosted environment, at least not yet. However, if a business has just started up within the last year or so, they may not have a PBX; they may have gone to a hosted or managed play. Even so, traditional PBX players are big drivers of the UC story as we it today. All of the vendors are figuring out ways to expand and capitalize off of UC.”

“Cisco, for example, has their own IP PBX, they have their Call Manager software and they bought WebEx, so they have the infrastructure to be more of a turnkey provider or enabler in terms of delivering UC, versus anybody else I’m aware of in the industry today,” says Epps.

“Nortel is also becoming quite active in terms of providing UC solutions, mostly because of their partnership with Microsoft. Nortel I believe tends to call UC ‘multimedia’ communications. But they also have the necessary capabilities to provide powerful and compelling solutions, and they are pushing the technology through their Multimedia Communication Server [MCS] as they expand into delivering UC from their PBX base. They can work behind the huge footprint of users that Microsoft has out there that rely on the Microsoft Exchange Server and Outlook. I see Nortel certainly being a key player in UC,” says Epps.

“Avaya also an interesting UC player,” says Epps, “though in my opinion I don’t see them as currently being quite as aggressive as Nortel and Cisco. And then, of course, there’s Microsoft itself, which is doing a great deal to expand UC capabilities via such things as OCS 2007.

My only question is – when do I get my “Outlook IP Telephone”? ( Just kidding.)

Unified Communications Communications Magazine Table of Contents

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