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Unified Communications
Featured Article
Unified Communications
Richard "Zippy" Grigonis
Executive Editor,

IP Communication Group

Service-Oriented Architecture and Web Services Meet

Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web Services ultimately change the way business processes are architected and dealt with, since software can now "talk to" other software components in various other providers and companies, calling upon whatever functionality is necessary and enabling developers to speed up both the creation of applications to handle business processes and the processes themselves. It can also help to bring about delivery of Software as a Service (SaaS). Indeed, various platforms are changing from traditional node-oriented server configurations to a "distributed fabric of capabilities", as Microsoft likes to say. SOA and Web Services will ultimately integrate complex UC suites with complex sets of business applications, thus "communications-enabling" them. A combination of these Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBPs) and UC represent the future of every organization.




 

We see some of this already with Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) and its client application, Office Communicator, which not only provides a presence-based "unification" of audio, video and data sharing, but also "communication-enables" the other apps in Microsoft Office.


At Covergence, Rod Hodgman, Vice President of Marketing, has written, "SOA is creating new opportunities
for UC by enabling new business process integration between voice and data networks that turn common tasks into reusable Web Services applications to improve workflow and general business practices."


Hodgman's company offers Covergence Web Services (CWS) software that can be used to quickly incorporate real-time communications into corporate business applications. Deployed on an enterprise web application server, CWS communicates with Covergence session management solutions using Web Services interfaces. The simple, high-level API of CWS allows developers to control media and signaling sessions, without delving into the details of telephony protocols or the specifics of individual PBX vendor implementations. A single development project automatically yields support for multiple PBX platforms. CWS enables enterprises to deliver real-time communications capabilities as part of a SOA permitting voice and other interactive communications services to be easily integrated with IT applications.


Instead of a clunky 1990s-type CTI interface, CWS uses a Web Services API featuring an abstraction layer that shields software developers from a PBX's underlying complexities and nuances, enabling IT staff members unfamiliar with telephony to rapidly add real-time communications to software apps. CWS can translate generic call control commands into JTAPI or other proprietary CTI protocols supported by PBX vendors. CWS enables enterprises to deliver Communications-Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) by interlacing voice, video, presence, instant-messaging and other real-time communications services directly into business applications. Businesses use CWS to add real-time communications to websites, internally-developed apps or off-the-shelf software such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) programs.


More in terms of UC, Covergence also offers their Covergence Session Manager, a data center solution that cuts costs by consolidating and virtualizing the voice and data of multi-vendor PBXs and UC systems onto a single IP network and a single, consistent and centrally-managed service, all without replacing a company's existing voice infrastructure. Session Manager can deliver voice, video and presence to a web browser with zero installation. Covergence Session Manager transforms voice into a web service to help streamline business processes and allow users to collaborate without regard to location, device, or application. The Session Manager can ensure that legacy protocols and vendor-specific SIP dialects are compatible with a SIP Trunking service used by a company. It can also handle PBX consolidation: Large organizations can have hundreds of PBXs from multiple vendors, but Session Manager can combine multi-vendor PBXs and UC systems into resource pools, so that multiple physical resources become a cohesive, centrally-managed VoIP service. PBX utilization is thus optimized and you can now easily add, modify and delete PBX platforms or capabilities without service disruption.


Aspect Plays a Blue Note


Another company that was heavily into SOA was BlueNote Networks, now part of Aspect Software, one of the founders of the modern contact center industry and now the world's largest company solely focused on unified communications for the contact center. BlueNote leveraged SOA concepts in their flagship software product, SessionSuite SOA Edition, to bring about the Communications- Enabled Business Processes. (A "business process" can be an internal process such as processing a product return order, or an external customer-facing process, such as enabling a customer to call a help desk using a web page click-to-call button.) SessionSuite SOA also had Web Service interfaces that enabled companies to embed voice communications into their existing systems.


BlueNote's technology was doubtless incorporated into Aspect Software's existing Unified Command and Control solution that enables contact centers to centralize reporting, routing, administration and workflow management in a single console, even when dealing with as many as 40 different contact centers and as many as 40,000 agents, either within a single site or across multiple contact center locations. The solution allows businesses to use one system to facilitate all agent moves, adds, and changes across sites, and enables local survivable nodes, ensuring business continuity during a local network failure or in the event of a disaster. It enables contact centers to leverage existing investments in Aspect Software solutions while also seamlessly moving to new SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)-based VoIP platforms. Since Unified Command and Control was built using SOA principles, it enables third-parties or Aspect partners to build their own adapters into their own products or other, similarly open, products in the future. Unified Command and Control also provides administration,
reporting, and routing for Aspect CallCenter ACD and the workforce management capability of PerformanceEdge, Aspect eWorkforce Management.


Moving into "The Cloud" the Microsoft Way


The concept Web Services can be used to move Microsoft Exchange and other applications into the cloud. The new Exchange Web Services Managed API provides managed code access to Exchange, whether running on premises or in the cloud. This new .NET API provides full access to Microsoft Exchange mail, calendaring, scheduling, contacts, eventing, synchronization, permissioning, and public folders programmatically using the Exchange Web Services protocol. Companies can move their Exchange into the cloud but maintain their other familiar applications that they always run on their premises. One can thus develop and deploy either a "hybrid" or partial SaaS scenario using Exhange Online, or else a total SaaS scenario with full Exchange Online applications in the cloud via the Azure Services Platform, an Internet cloud services platform hosted in Microsoft data centers, which provides a "cloud" operating system and developer services that can be called upon individually or in concert. With Azure's flexible and interoperable platform you can build new applications to run from the cloud or enhance existing apps with cloud-based capabilities.


Azure is interesting because many Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and companies with small IT staffs would like the applications to be sold as completely hosted services in the cloud, so ISVs can maintain control over their software and companies don't have to invest in a large infrastructure just to run applications. Interestingly, such Exchange-based services can connect to other companies who also have Exchange Online in the cloud, and developers can therefore take advantage of the rich Exchange development environment for a cloud-based service. The platforms are flexible enough so that developers can develop along a continuum, both against on-premises, as well as in the cloud. Those applications, interestingly, don't have to be rewritten for either type of scenario.


The Azure Services Platform can deal with such things as Microsoft .NET Services, SQL Services and Live Services, essentially treating them as "building blocks". Microsoft uses Azure internally to build its own apps. In good distributed fashion, these building block services can also call upon each other as needed, so, for example, the Access Control Service makes use of the SQL data services, and the SQL Services can use the Access Control Service to gain access to what it needs, thus moving the platform paradigm from traditional node-oriented servers to a "distributed fabric of capabilities". Moreover, Microsoft takes care of all the IT-related worries, so the customer company no longer plays the role of worrying about such things as management and high availability.


Soon, developers using Azure will be able to access Microsoft SharePoint Services, and Dynamics CRM Services, allowing them to build interesting new forms of collaboration and thus strengthen customer relationships. Developers will be able to use good old Visual Studio to quickly build apps that call upon SharePoint and CRM capabilities as developer services for their own applications. Microsoft will eventually bestow on developers many SharePoint & CRM capabilities across the spectrum of on-premises, online and the Azure Services Platform, which may become one of the easiest ways to assist developers in creating applications for both the web and connected devices.

 

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.

 







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