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A Conversation With Aculabs Alan Pound


Back in June, Aculab announced the release of its next-generation board, Prosody X. Designed around an IP core, the card offers many innovative benefits to developers. I ran into Alan Pound, Aculabs Founder and managing director at the top of the Sears Tower back in June, and that led to some follow-up discussions, which eventually led to this interview you now have before you. Aculab will be exhibiting their latest and greatest at this months Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO in Los Angeles at the LA Convention Center.
Greg Galitzine

GG: What is happening in the VoIP marketplace today?

AP: As VoIP goes mainstream with the proliferation of broadband access for consumers and enterprises alike encouraging the development of new IP-based services, there is a need for a new, IP-centric offering from within the communications building block vendor space.

Telcos national and international carriers, both fixed and mobile are under increasing competitive pressures from a variety of sources, which is pulling them towards VoIP and other IP-based service offerings as a means of differentiating themselves and, perhaps not to put too fine a point on it, ensuring their future. Service providers, including the telcos, are in a similar position, with innovative competition being the dominant factor change is the only constant, and never was this adage more apt.

The landscape is changing, with access-independent VoIP providers challenging the old paradigm having turned the hype into reality and creating new opportunities. Peer-to-peer networking has emerged as an alternative for communications and, miles away from geeky consumer VoIP, is potentially going to revolutionise the enterprise applications space. There is a new ecosystem evolving, in which developers should get busy. Their innovation is needed to think up and deliver the new offerings that consumers will buy and the new productivity services that enterprises will choose to spend their money on.

Aculab is continuing to innovate and to introduce new products like Prosody X that will provide developers and systems integrators and the development organisations of the telcos and service providers themselves with the platforms with which to build these new offerings.

GG: Aculab has recently launched Prosody X. Tell us about it.

AP: Prosody X is an open standards circuit card designed for media processing in IP-based networks with TDM connectivity as an option. It offers a new approach to card design that acknowledges the reality of IP in todays telco network infrastructures. Designed around an IP core, its architecture makes the product distributable amongst different chassis platforms offering resilience and scalability as well as helping future proof solutions as they move to IP. Preliminary channel counts for fully configured cards with basic speech processing are running at 600 for the PCI product variant. Its rich mix of basic and advanced speech, fax, and data features coupled with the price makes Prosody X an extremely attractive option for any developer looking to create large scale VoIP applications from simple IVRs to complex blended contact centers.

Prosody X highlights:

On-board Ethernet means IP is inherent in the design;

Ethernet connectivity not only conducts VoIP traffic, but also enables the control of cards in remote chassis offering benefits of resilience and scalability;

Rich media processing DSPs give large channel counts for VoIP, transcoding and media processing tasks like IVR, echo cancellation, conferencing and fax;

With the Aculab SIP Bridge there is no restriction on the number of SIP signalling channels available for third-party call control;

Optional connectivity for up to eight E1/T1 trunks with digital network access protocols from CAS to ISDN and SS7 (ISUP and TCAP).

GG: What is this new approach to card design that you mention?

AP: The fundamental change behind the next generation hardware of Prosody X is the principle around which the product is built. It is constructed around an IP core, while maintaining the ability to (optionally) interface with E1/T1 connections, which are still in widespread use.

IP is, therefore, inherent in the design there are no PCI drivers and the card appears to the host PC as a NIC and this architecture means it is the ideal platform for creating large-scale, cost effective, revenue generating applications for solution providers and telcos offering VoIP-centric products.

Along with the change in environment goes a parallel change in the available DSP technology we have used to construct our next-generation hardware. Using the latest DSP families (created with VoIP in mind) allows the choice of devices that are, by design, application-friendly to both VoIP and rich media processing applications.

Notwithstanding this, there continues to be a need to interface with traditional telephony connections like E1 or T1. Previous open standards telephony hardware was designed around these legacy interfaces with VoIP as an add-on, but Aculabs next generation of hardware has a beating heart of IP while continuing to service E1 or T1 connections by clever modular design.

Prosody X leverages Aculabs core expertise in combining complex technologies into a powerful and flexible proposition that assures developers a simple, clear migration path. Prosody X offers mix and match modules to scale a wide range of applications including low and high densities suitable for enterprise and public networks. Together with higher densities and lower costs this is most certainly a compelling proposition.

GG: Can you expand on what the Aculab SIP Bridge is?

AP: SIP adoption is increasing steadily, as expected. Many solution providers are looking to leverage the power and capabilities that SIP can bring more efficient use of communications hardware and software being a key driver.

With Prosody X, solution providers can take advantage of a number of SIP enhancements reflected in the Aculab API, presenting greater flexibility in application design namely third-party call control.

In an IP environment, in instances where calls are simply being connected between RTP endpoints (User Agents), only signalling is required, for example, by a server-based IP PBX. Phone calls between people may not require any media resources (unless they need to be recorded, or an intelligent device needs to listen into the call). It is only when a call is being terminated by an application, such as voicemail, that media resources are needed. This means that some systems will need more signalling channels than media channels and to be able to handle third-party call control to manipulate connections.

Aculabs new SIP implementation, SIP Bridge, makes it possible to use Aculabs highly integrated SIP protocol stack in a much more powerful manner to directly implement an IP call center or an IP PBX, for example, using third-party call control.

With some media processing resource card vendors, although signalling and media are separated, a signalling channel will depend on a media channel on a 1:1 basis. With Aculabs Prosody X card and SIP Bridge, this dependence is removed, presenting the ability to more effectively manage and allocate resources, with third-party call control becoming an exciting option.

GG: What sets Prosody X apart from other products available?

AP: Alternative products offer a fragmented set of functions focused toward one application or one application environment only, Prosody X is a new benchmark offering the ultimate flexibility to developers who can select the functions required to scale a wide range of low- to high-density applications. It is a highly configurable card that combines Aculabs proven media processing resources, IP telephony and TDM digital network access functions and offers unprecedented value per channel. With an unlimited number of SIP call control sessions available, 600 channels of rich media processing resources and the option to add up to eight E1/T1 trunks, the products feature set is unparalleled in the market.

GG: What are the benefits of Prosody X for developers?

AP: Customers and prospects have been requesting extreme density and a broad range of functionality. By being selective with the component technology employed, we have been able to bring such a product to market at a barely believable price when compared to competitors so the component cost of their large scale solutions is set to shrink.

The possibility is opened up not only to create large-scale VoIP applications like IVRs and unified messaging, etc., but also compete with large scale proprietary products like ACD and contact center systems by building equivalent solutions with Prosody X.

Developers now have a high-density, multi-functional building block at their disposal allowing them to add functionality to platforms without necessarily adding more hardware thus moving to a more software centric approach.

Remember that the number of these cards that can be built into a given solution is no longer limited by the size of a host chassis since additional cards can reside in a lower cost expansion chassis, while remaining under the control (via Ethernet) of the host processor. IT


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