Maintaining multivendor voice operations – with a mix of PBXs and ancillary appliances from various manufacturers – can be tough.
There are the challenges of engineering dial plans, least-cost routing and common directories. Not to mention the hurdles of federated presence (transmitting personal status between systems) and fixed-mobile convergence once you move to UC, notes UC expert Jim Burton, CEO of CT Link, in Saint Helena, Calif., and cofounder of UCStrategies.com.
Yet many enterprises find themselves supporting gear from several vendors. Some do it unwillingly, as a result of mergers and acquisitions (which will only become more common in this turbulent economy). Others prefer to take a “best-of-breed” approach – using voice components from diverse manufacturers that excel in niches like contact centers and messaging, Burton adds.
The average enterprise among the 100 respondents to Voice Report’s 2009 National PBX Survey supports PBXs from two manufacturers, though 18% support three or more vendors’ equipment.
Telecom gear manufacturers seem to be catching on. Avaya’s “Aura” announcement at VoiceCon Orlando 2009 was among several that aim to make interoperability easier on enterprise telecom pros.
Avaya Pitches Cost Savings, Streamlined Interoperability
Aura, which will be available globally in May, uses a SIP session manager to centralize communications and applications integration in networks that use PBXs from multiple manufacturers. Avaya is pitching Aura as a cost saver, enabling enterprises to keep existing equipment in place and eliminate PSTN access charges [VR 4/9/09].
But several enterprise telecom pros who heard the announcement aren’t sure whether Aura represents a rebranding of existing Avaya gear or something entirely new. “It’s definitely a confusing product,” says Irwin Lazar, VP for communications research at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research, who notes it wasn’t immediately clear what a customer would have to buy to install Aura.
Think of Aura not as a standalone product, but as an approach to network architecture. Instead of standardizing on a single system to solve the challenges of managing multivendor environments, you can use Aura for common session management to enforce call policies and enable SIP trunking, Lazar explains.
It’s similar to the functionality that Siemens’ OpenScape provides in multivendor environments or VisionOSS provides among Cisco clusters, he says. Microsoft could also position its Office Communications Server to provide the same benefits.
New Session Manager Anchors Architecture
The Aura Session Manager is a new appliance that sits at the logical center of an enterprise network. It acts as a mediation point between applications, systems and locations.
“From now on, [Avaya] will be designing things so that when one element in the enterprise communications network wants to talk to another element in the enterprise communications network, it will go to the Session Manager,” explains Marty Parker, principal at Loomis, Calif.-based UniComm Consulting.
All of the elements of the network need to be SIP-capable or hooked up to SIP-to-QSIG or SIP-to-PRI gateways in order to communicate with the Session Manager, he adds.
Communication Manager (now “Avaya Aura Communication Manager”) becomes a feature server in Aura, providing more than 700 features like whisper page and multiple call appearances, explains Lawrence Byrd, Avaya’s director of UC architecture. The Aura Session Manager handles call control.
For example, where the PBX used to transfer a call to a hunt group or voicemail, it now will ask the Session Manager for instructions. The Session Manager gives the PBX the SIP uniform resource indicator (URI) of the service it needs to access and sets up a communication session between the PBX and a voice portal, Parker explains.
Different vendors’ PBXs can be connected via SIP for global dial plans and least-cost routing. When a user in the United States needs to call another employee on a one-X mobile device in Bulgaria, for example, the Session Manager will find a gateway to the network in Bulgaria and give the U.S. user’s PBX the URI of that gateway, which avoids routing the call over the public network, Parker says.
Session Manager will choose the cheapest route, Byrd says, even routing the call through Russia over the PSTN if you’ve negotiated a great rate with your carrier for calls to that country, and then sending the call from Russia to Bulgaria.
Avaya’s acquisition of SIP-based communications software provider Ubiquity in 2007 gave it some of the technology that makes Aura possible, Parker says.
Other elements of the Aura architecture include Aura Presence Services (formerly known as Intelligent Presence Services), which expands the ability to federate presence from multiple sources and vendors for a more accurate view of an employee or work group availability. Aura also uses Avaya’s Application Enablement Services (which provides APIs and Web services for developers) and Integrated Management (which provides management tools for central dial plans and profiles).
Aura scales to 250,000 business users and 25,000 locations.
Cost Savings Come from Reduced PSTN Fees
The system reduces costs by eliminating local application servers and allowing enterprises to create new applications and extend them quickly to users in all locations, Avaya says in its press release. Local voicemail and conferencing servers are among those that can be eliminated, Byrd says, because Aura makes it easier for legacy PBXs to access these services hosted in remote locations.
Australian National University (a school in Canberra, Australia, with 14,000 students, staff and faculty) anticipates “enormous” savings from a university-wide dial plan and writing its own applications, says Darren Coleman, senior network engineer for the school, in the Avaya press release. The university is one of more than 200 enterprises that Avaya is helping to develop networks using the Aura architecture, Avaya says. Cost reductions from SIP trunking will be the most popular selling point, Lazar says. Aura functions as a gateway to SIP trunking services, enabling global least-cost routing and PSTN access from the most cost-effective location.
Lazar reports seeing enterprises cut PSTN charges in half with SIP trunking. Instead of paying for a T-1 of dedicated bandwidth to deliver voice traffic to the PSTN, you can buy a SIP trunk and combine voice traffic with Internet or MPLS over the same line. Buying a bundle of minutes over a SIP trunk is cheaper than traditional PSTN charges, Lazar says.
Aura Available in 3 Editions
Avaya will sell Aura in three different editions.
Branch edition: Customer-facing branches, retail stores, financial and insurance offices, and government offices looking for centralized management of thousands of locations and enterprise-wide SIP networking are good candidates for the branch edition, Avaya says.
Standard edition: Avaya says the standard edition of Aura is best for single sites and mid-size to large distributed enterprises requiring comprehensive voice, video, messaging, SIP and presence communications capabilities with standard survivability at remote locations. Standard-edition users have the option to add licensing for enterprise-wide SIP session management and UC apps for targeted users, including Microsoft and IBM UC integration, and mobile worker and teleworker support.
Enterprise edition: The enterprise edition of Aura includes everything in the standard edition but is geared toward highly distributed, multinational, mid-size to very large enterprises requiring increased high-availability options, including 100% feature survivability at remote locations. Enterprise edition includes, with no additional licensing, enterprise-wide SIP session management and UC apps for all users, including Microsoft and IBM UC integration, and mobile worker and teleworker support.
All licenses are a one-time cost, though Byrd adds that you’ll pay a percent of the license fees each year for support. Aura licenses are available as upgrades for existing Avaya customers, or at the same price at which a non-Avaya shop could purchase Communication Manager licenses today, Byrd adds. [See software pricing for all three editions in this month’s WorkTool.]
The costs of re-engineering your voice operations to work with the Aura architecture could add costs, because it’s a complex integration you likely can’t do on your own, Lazar says. “That’ll be the wild card,” he notes. (