Press Coverage - VoiceCon Spring 2006

Here are some selections from the press coverage of the 2006 event:


Network World

Users discuss convergence at VoiceCon

Phil Hochmuth - 03/13/06

ORLANDO - The challenges of IP telephony - from making the business case for convergence to the down-and-dirty of power supplies in telecom closets - generated plenty of spirited discussion at last week's VoiceCon show (complete VoiceCon coverage).

More than 5,000 IT professionals, consultants and vendor representatives crowded the Gaylord Palms Convention Center to get their hands on the latest IP telephony gear, discuss convergence strategies and debate the direction of key technologies such as Session Initiation Protocol, unified messaging and VoIP services.

"Is there a killer app for IP telephony? I don't think so," said Jamie Libow, telecommunications manager at St. Paul Travelers. "But in buying into IP telephony, you're enabling lots of what I call mini-killers."

St. Paul Travelers uses a mix of Avaya and Cisco IP telephony gear that gives employees who move between offices in Minnesota and Hartford, Conn., more flexibility. For example, they can keep the same phone extension at both locations. Libow can bring up field offices in days instead of weeks by tying small-office gateways into the main PBX over IP. Also, his new disaster recovery scenarios - where all calls are shifted over an IP network from Hartford to a Georgia-based data center - would not have been possible with traditional TDM switching, he said. In a recent move to a new building in Hartford, substantial cost savings were realized by running single Ethernet cables - carrying IP voice and data wires - to hundreds of desktops, instead of two separate cables. All these factors add up, Libow said.

A good convergence strategy involves finding IP voice applications that will save money or increase productivity, and reorganizing an IT staff to handle the changes that convergence brings, said David Stever, manager of communication technology services at PPL Corp., an energy company with a mixed IP and TDM network from Nortel. (His firm won Network World's 2005 Renovator Award for best network upgrade.)

"You won't get the best benefits out of infrastructure convergence if you don't converge" your telecom and datacom departments, Stever said. "You want to make sure that management, all the way up to CIOs and above, really buys into [IP telephony]." IT professionals must show that IP technology by itself cannot be implemented under old telecom and datacom organizational structures. "Link it all together and make it clear that the organization is a critical piece," he said.

While it is important to convince management to reorganize data and voice groups, don't forget to rally the telecom troops as well, says one IT professional.

"You have to get [the telecom staff] excited" about making a switch to IP telephony says Bruce Mellott, senior communications engineer at Disney Worldwide Services. "You have to let them know that the days of punch-down and running cable and crimping RJ-11 jacks is prety much going away, and that if they want to advance forward . . . they have to get excited about learning new things. Those that don't want to learn anything new will have to go by the wayside."

Getting to the point where IP telephony's benefits are realized can be hard, as IT professionals from two large entertainment companies described. Powering IP phones in large deployments is an obstacle for both.

At Viacom/MTV Networks, which is installing thousands of IP phones in its New York offices, "the building's capability to provide us with enough power to support redundancy" is the challenge, said Eileen Wainwright, the company's senior director of telecommunications infrastructure and operations. "We have over 300 users per floor. . . . We're really struggling, especially in Manhattan, getting power up to the 33rd floor or the 55th floor of a building."

Disney Worldwide Services, which manages IT and telecom for the entertainment company, has large-scale IP telephony sites in Japan and on both U.S. coasts. Bruce Mellott, senior communications engineer for the company, also sees power and cooling issues when digital phones are replaced with IP sets - the equivalent of putting another, smaller computer on desktops.

"There are a lot of challenges inside the wiring closets in terms of battery consumption," he said. Providing redundant power to IP phones - which are powered by Power over Ethernet (PoE) LAN switches - requires battery backups in the wiring closets and PoE gear that draws more power and produces more heat than previous switching equipment. Most data closets are designed for 120-watt outlets, Mellot said, but some gear can require more.

"That has been one of our biggest challenges; how to do this with our existing infrastructure," he said. "We spent 20 years really working hard to separate voice and data . . . and I said to my boss, we did a good job, because we don't even have a single [conduit] running through the [datacom and telecom] closets."

Besides selling the VoIP business case to management and dealing with the technical details of a VoIP rollout, users at VoiceCon were faced with hundreds of vendors pushing new enterprise VoIP products and services.

"Right when you think you're on the cutting edge, you're not," said Peter Tseronis, director of network services for the U.S. Dept of Education, which ties together eight buildings in Washington with VoIP. "I just put in a requisition for a product that I wanted to buy the other day, and now I have to think about taking that off the table," after seeing some of the wares at VoiceCon.


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Network World

The scoop on VoiceCon

Tim Greene - 02/24/06

This year's VoiceCon promises to be an exciting event. The show, which runs from March 6-9 at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, will feature keynotes from Avaya CEO Don Peterson and Cisco CEO John Chambers.

In fact, Cisco's public relations machine is claiming that Chambers will be making "an industry-changing announcement about voice, video and data communications solutions."

My spies tell me what that really means is that Cisco will unveil its CallManager 5.0, which will finally support SIP clients. I'm betting a bottle of Hawaiian Tropic (SPF 70) and a pair of Ray-Bans on this prediction, so ante up.

And stay tuned for more VoiceCon chatter.


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Computerworld

VoiceCon: Users applaud unified communications initiatives

One IT manager called convergence efforts 'Kumbaya time for IT'

News Story by Matt Hamblen

MARCH 07, 2006 (COMPUTERWORLD) - ORLANDO -- Unified communications technologies that work with a variety of powerful vendors such as Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and Avaya Inc. were a big hit with users at VoiceCon Spring 2006 today.

Microsoft has announced over the past two days that it will develop Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) interoperability within its Live Communications Server 2005 and communications products from Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel, Mitel Networks Corp., NEC Corp., Nortel Networks Ltd. and Siemens AG .

One customer who uses both Cisco and Microsoft technology said the cooperation, which might lead to products he can use by August, could help improve business efficiency. "It will be huge for us," said Chris Beck, enterprise voice architect at Career Education Corp. in Hoffman Estates, Ill. The company has 17,000 employees with 80 locations, and about half its workers are equipped with IP telephones.

Beck said that having a Cisco server to detect the presence of workers on IP phones and other communications equipment could help drastically reduce the turnaround time on Web inquiries by would-be students seeking information. If the candidates could be called back in 10 minutes instead of 15 minutes or more, it would increase the chance that they would be interested in his company's programs, Beck said. Knowing who was available to return calls would help reduce the call-back time, he added.

Being able to convert interested callers into actual applicants might not matter to students, but it could help Career Education, he said. If internal applications that his company uses can be leveraged for use by customers and potential customers, he noted, "that would be gargantuan for us."

The prospect of Cisco working with Avaya and other tough competitors prompted several IT managers to sing the praises of integration and open standards. One who would not give his name called it "Kumbaya time for IT." But an executive at a of large vendor played down that notion a bit, however, calling the news "Kumbaya lite," since competition is still very much alive.

Jamie Libow, telecommunications director at St. Paul Travelers Insurance in St. Paul, Minn., has already been using both Avaya and Cisco products in a combined IP telephony system for communications. The company, which has 30,000 employees, started with the combined Cisco-Avaya system in 2000 and will continue using it indefinitely. "Both have strengths, and both have weaknesses," Libow said in a keynote address. "No IP telephony system is perfect today, and that's why we have both Avaya and Cisco."

However, Libow joked that it is sometimes hard working with both companies as they compete, and he compared the experience to that of a child of divorced parents.

At a luncheon with analysts and reporters, Cisco CEO John Chambers said that SIP and other open standards are naturally going to push vendors closer together. But he also said

The change in the market toward unified communications means that Cisco will be selling products not only to IT shops, but also to end users and consumers, Chambers said. Even as voice, data and video are converging, so, too, are security systems -- as shown by Cisco's announcement today that it plans to purchase SyPixx Networks Inc.

Don Proctor, senior vice president of the voice technology group, which oversees the Cisco Unified Communications system that was announced this week, said that 47 products make up the entire system, with about 15 of them new, including the Cisco Unified Presence Server. Cisco annnounced a new pricing model to allow customers to buy parts or all of that system, with the per-user costs ranging from $450 to $1,500.

Proctor said that although SIP interoperability will bring staunch competitors such as Avaya and Cisco closer together, there will still be "healthy competition" between the various companies.


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Information Week

Analysis: Avaya's Peer-To-Peer Toothache

Avaya's new peer-to-peer SIP solution, dubbed one-X Quick Edition, could leave users drilling their own teeth if they're not careful. Quick Edition's predictability and availability could suffer because of its unique P2P networking.

By Networking Pipeline - March 13, 2006

Avaya's new peer-to-peer SIP solution, dubbed one-X Quick Edition, certainly grabbed headlines this week, but users could end up drilling their own teeth if they're not careful. Quick Edition's predictability and availability could suffer because of its unique P2P networking.

One-X Quick Edition was part of Avaya's telecom blitzkrieg announced this week at the VoiceCon show. The technology provides Avaya with a valuable opportunity to expand beyond its enterprise base and address the burgeoning small-business market, the weakest of Avaya's three major technology sectors. The VoiceCon blitz saw Avaya fill critical holes in Communication Manager with version 3.1, while also setting the groundwork for a new approach to application integration, not to mention meeting the needs of the small office.

Communication Manager 3.1 improves Avaya's telephony server resiliency on two fronts. Avaya eliminated the need for a fiber link between two servers in a redundant configuration, relying on Ethernet instead. This move reduces hardware configuration costs and expands architecture choice. Instead of locating both servers within the same premises, the Communication Manager server can now be located on separate sites for higher availability. Cisco has long offered such a capability.

Avaya has also improved Communication Manager's ability to fail over active calls to a backup server by duplicating the IP Media Resource boards in each server. Security has also been improved through the support for Tripwire for Enterprise Linux 4.0, which will now be shipped with all Linux-based Avaya Media Servers.

Vendors are looking to embed VoIP within their enterprise applications to help change the way businesses use communications, and Avaya is no different. To those ends, Avaya upgraded its Avaya SIP Enablement Services, which exposes Avaya's presence server to the rest of presence-based communications over SIP. It also added the new Avaya Application Enablement Services, which delivers a Web services interface for developers to design new applications for a service-oriented architecture. Cisco has released its own SOA interface as well.

Avaya uses SIP Enablement Services to integrate Cisco's SIP phones into Communication Manager. SIP also extends to Avaya's 3.0 release of Modular Messaging, its unified messaging product, to eliminate hardware interface costs while simplifying integration. Avaya has also doubled its SIP capacity to 5,000 trunks. The additional $25-per-seat SIP licensing costs have also been removed.

QUICK EDITION
But it was Avaya's one-X Quick Edition that grabbed most of the attention. The P2P SIP technology was acquired last year in the Nimcat Networks deal and allows consumers to purchase specially equipped Avaya phones through e-tailors, plug up to 20 of them into their Ethernet switches, and have the phones locate and configure themselves, providing an easy-to-install telephony network. Call control and voicemail are distributed across the Avaya telephones, with the only other hardware requirement being a small gateway to access the PSTN. Should a phone fail, the user can recover voicemail and other features from backed up images distributed across the other phones in the network. Growth is possible by using the same phones with Communication Manager. Phones are currently available through retail channels and list for $485 to $585.

One-X Quick Edition is currently limited to a single site, but according to Jorge Blanco, vice president of strategic marketing at Avaya, customers can expect Avaya to provide those capabilities across sites.

IMPACT
Yet while Quick Edition may make smart business sense for Avaya, it may not make as much sense for its target audience. While IT will appropriately configure QoS and VLAN settings for VoIP on their networks, that's not likely to be the case with small-business owners. For one thing, they're bound to have networks without either technology deployed. And although most QoS problems will be addressed by the sheer capacity of the 100Mbps switched LAN, given voice's importance to a company, neither SMBs nor Avaya would be wise to rely on sheer bandwidth alone to ensure voice quality and continuity. It's too simple for a combination of file transfers, P2P applications, or other technologies to consume enough bandwidth to compromise VoIP's sound quality. Appropriate measures must be taken to ensure the network's suitability for VoIP, whether through technology or, more likely, through documentation, which would work against Quick Edition's message of easy deployment.

What's more, 3Com product manager Greg Zweig suggests that by updating one another, the Quick Edition phones may propagate software errors across the P2P transactions. This might just be the usual vendor FUD, but Tom Petsche, senior product manager in Avaya's converged appliances division, does say all system parameters are shared amongst the phones, not just media files. He was unable to comment at the time as to the security measures Avaya is taking to prevent the corruption of software files.


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InfoWorld

VoIP buddies: Cisco, Citrix, and Microsoft

Cisco partners with Citrix and Microsoft to bring IM-like presence and click-to-call capabilities to their hosted and desktop applications

By Mike Barton - March 13, 2006

For better or worse, voice has escaped the telephone and is weaving its way into the fabric of enterprise applications. According to Gartner, by 2010, 80 percent of companies will have integrated voice and messaging into some business applications or processes.

Cisco gave that trend another push last week at the VoiceCon conference, when the company unveiled its Cisco Unified Communications system, a big enterprise bundle that includes voice, e-mail, text, collaboration, videoconferencing, and IM-style presence capabilities. Shortly after, the company announced separate partnerships with Citrix and Microsoft to integrate telephony with their network and desktop applications.

Microsoft will integrate its Office Communicator 2005 and SIP-based Office Live Communications Server with Cisco's new unified system. The integrated technology will support "click-to-call" capability and the ability to transfer computer or desk phone calls from Office Communicator.

Murli Thirumale, group vice president of Citrix Gateways, said Citrix was collaborating with Cisco to voice-enable a range of its hosted enterprise applications, including on-demand CRM provider Salesforce.com.

"These two worlds -- applications and telephony -- have largely been separate," Thirumale said. "There are many IT managers around the world who want to voice-enable their apps."

Thirumale added that the relationship would first focus on integration of its Citrix Application Gateway and Office Voice products with Cisco's bundle. The combination will provide the SIP-based user presence and click-to-call capabilities.

Microsoft expects to introduce its converged products in August; Citrix said it will follow in the second half of this year.


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Network World

VoIP vendors get serious about SIP

By Phil Hochmuth - 03/06/06

VoIP vendors poised to make news at VoiceCon this week say they will deliver on the multimedia and interoperability promises of Session Initiation Protocol with a lineup of products that use the protocol as a core IP PBX technology.

3Com and Cisco are expected to lead the way at VoiceCon with new versions of their IP PBX platforms that use SIP as the core call control technology. Avaya plans to introduce a SIP-based, peer-to-peer VoIP system that does not use a central server.

3Com's NBX and Cisco's CallManager 5.0 will run native SIP, and when deployed with other applications could let users integrate desktop productivity applications with VoIP and IP video and instant-messaging technology.

"The reason SIP is going native [on IP PBXs] is to get away from the kludgey external proxy servers that were needed to have SIP interoperability in the past," says Brian Riggs, an analyst at Current Analysis.

"As service providers come out with SIP-based VoIP services, you can do away with voice T-1 lines and ISDN" and link directly into a voice provider via IP. "That can reduce costs," he says. "There are also a lot of SIP-based applications being written out there; SIP on the IP PBX will be necessary to support those."

The latest version of Microsoft Office, in which smart tags in documents can be tied to click-to-dial or other communications channels, is an example of this, he says.

Cisco's release of CallManager 5.0, rebranded as Unified CallManager, replaces the company's widely used Skinny Call Control Protocol with SIP. The new IP PBX release also lets organizations choose between a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 platform and a new, purpose-built Linux operating system for running the CallManager software. Cisco's top five competitors in enterprise telephony - 3Com, Alcatel, Avaya, Nortel and Siemens - have introduced Linux-based IP PBXs.

"The timing for us is good" for Cisco to move to a SIP-based CallManager, says Glen Waltman, principal IT technician for Air Products, an Allentown, Pa., supplier of industrial gas and chemical products. The company uses CallManager 4.0.

"Telephony is becoming an application; the more you can get down to it just being an application on a blade or appliance, it should make it easier to manage and you can get more out of it," Waltman says. "SIP seems to be the standard everyone is endorsing and moving to" in order to make that happen.

In addition to the new CallManager 5.0, Cisco plans to launch Unified Presence Server and Unified Personal Communicator, which will let users see the availability status of colleagues, and to combine voice, video, chat, e-mail and messaging into a single interface. Cisco says its presence server also can work with Microsoft's Office Communicator client, and the company's Unified Presence Server can interoperate with Live Communication Server (LCS), Microsoft's presence and multimedia communication platform.

Cisco also plans to introduce integration with two other partner platforms: a dual-mode Wi-Fi and cellular phone from Nokia, allowing 802.11 CallManager connectivity on-campus and GSM voice off-campus; and Research In Motion BlackBerry 7270 handhelds, letting the devices run Cisco-based VoIP in Wi-Fi and cellular modes.

3Com's NBX 6.0, an IP PBX for as many as 1,500 users, can support SIP-based IP phones from 3Com, including headsets that work with the vendor's SIP-based VCX platform, targeted at companies with more than 2,000 users. SIP on the NBX will also let third-party SIP softphone software and desktop phones access the NBX and support all features of the device. 3Com says the NBX 6.0 will support its proprietary H.323-based VoIP protocol as well as SIP, so customers can upgrade without changing over all phones to SIP.

Among Avaya's products scheduled to be introduced at VoiceCon is its one-X Quick Edition small-office phone system, which consists of SIP-based IP phones with peer-to-peer capabilities that do not require an onsite or remotely connected call server or PBX. The one-X phones plug into a small-office LAN with a DHCP server - organizations with as many as 50 users are supported - and auto-detect each other; extension dial plans can be set up automatically or configured via a Web tool, used to access configuration files of individual telephones. A maximum 20 minutes of voice mail is stored in flash memory on the phones, and data is replicated across the phones - the same concept as a RAID disk array. This allows messages to be saved in case one of the phones fails. A small public switched telephone network gateway attached to the LAN hooks into a voice T-1 for outbound and inbound calls. Later this year, Avaya is expected to offer the ability to tie smaller one-X phones to an offsite Avaya Communications

Manager IP PBX.

For larger offices, Avaya is set to launch Version 3.1 of its Communications Manager, with new capabilities for keeping phones working if IP PBX hardware fails. Instead of just routing calls, the software lets users log on to the system from any IP phone and have all phone features and personal settings downloaded to that phone. This hot-desking feature in Communications Manager 3.1 was deployed in a pre-release trial at the University of Washington, which runs Avaya 8700 IP PBXs in the core and thousands of IP phones.

With hot-desking it is easier for IT and telecom staffs to manage simple office moves and relocations around campus, says Scott Mah, assistant vice president for IT infrastructure at the school. Hot-desking also is expanding the university's ideas on how it could use remote IP telephony to handle potential disasters, "such as what we would do if our traditional campus workforce was impacted by a pandemic flu."

Some converged applications at the show will complement Microsoft's SIP-based LCS and Office Communicator client, but others will compete with this platform. Cisco is taking the former route, but Mitel is expected to release its IP Communications Platform (IPC) 7.0, a new SIP-based IP PBX, and Live Business Gateway, a proxy that allows LCS and Office Communicator to integrate with the Mitel voice network. Also, Avaya plans to update its Converged Communications Server, a SIP-based presence and communications platform that rivals Microsoft's LCS and Cisco's Unified Presence Server.

"There is less emphasis on dial tone and more of a focus on who can provide streamlined access to voice tied to sophisticated applications," says Elizabeth Herrell, an analyst with Forrester Research. "As these products and platforms evolve, we will end up seeing greater competition between [telephony infrastructure] vendors and Microsoft."

Current Analysis' Riggs sees the battle as being narrower. "There's going to be competition between Cisco and Microsoft," he says. "The big battle going forward in telephony will be who controls the desktop client and the end-user experience."

In the past, softphones were point products that emulated phones on laptops and PCs. But now the stakes are higher, and vendors are including voice, IM, presence and integration with enterprise applications.

"The desktop client will be a means of communications as important as the phone," Riggs says


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Network World

VoiceCon: Microsoft gets partners to rally around its VoIP tools

By John Fontana - 03/06/06

Microsoft on Monday lined up Cisco and a number of telecoms equipment vendors behind its VoIP platform to provide support for emerging voice protocols with the promise of integrating desktop phone systems and the PC.

At the annual VoiceCon show in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft said Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel and Siemens will integrate call-control capabilities with Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS), Office Communicator 2005 desktop client and Office Communicator Mobile.

The effort is focused on interoperability supported by the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and the SIP for Instant Message and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), which have been hyped for years at conferences such as VoiceCon but have lacked full commitment from top vendors. SIP is lauded for its openness and flexibility, but vendors such as 3Com, Avaya, Cisco and Nortel balked at building pure-SIP versions of their gear, citing feature limitations. Those objections are eroding.

Microsoft's integration with Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, and NEC will let users launch and answer PBX-based and IP-PBX phone calls and view phone presence information from the Office Communicator client. The same client will let users switch between instant messaging and voice sessions. Microsoft also reiterated current integration projects it has available with Nortel and Siemens.

Microsoft's plan is to give corporate users a full-range of voice communication features through software that support integration between any PC-based device or service, and traditional cell or wireline phones.

The company plans to release the next version of its Office Communicator client later this year with Office 2007. The client features include enhanced voice and video, but also focus on telephony integration supported by Monday's VoiceCon announcements. Microsoft also plans to extend voice features to Office Groove, its peer-to-peer networking client, which will be integrated with Communicator.

Analysts says Microsoft's goal is to own the real-time communication client interface on the desktop, mobile client and soft-phone regardless of how calls are routed or completed on the back-end. Those analysts say Microsoft's biggest challenge will be execution. Telco providers have said that systems and not software will be the controlling factor in which vendors rise to the top of the market.

Microsoft's integration with Cisco is centered on the newly renamed Unified CallManager, formerly called CallManager 5.0, which lets companies choose between a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 platform and a new, purpose-built Linux operating system for running the CallManager software.

CallManager will be integrated with LCS and Communicator. Cisco also plans to integrate with two Microsoft products: Unified Presence Server and Unified Personal Communicator, which lets users see the availability status of colleagues, and to combine voice, video, chat, e-mail and messaging into a single interface.

Users will be able to click-to-call and transfer calls from Communicator, launch or answer calls from within Communicator, choose to conduct calls from either a traditional phone or the PC, and view Cisco Unified IP phone presence information from Communicator.

The integration work is expected to be completed in August 2006, according to Microsoft.

With Alcatel, Microsoft plans to integrate LCS and Communicator with Alcatel OmniPCX using SIP, Alcatel OmniTouch and MyTeamwork for voice conferencing and Alcatel Genesys Enterprise Telephony Software (GETS) for developing and deploying converged applications. The goal is to let users access availability and presence information, and manage phone calls and conferencing among computers and desktop phones.

Mitel and Microsoft will integrate LCS and Communicator with the Mitel Live Business Gateway, which combines voice and user/device presence information. Microsoft applications will be able to access Mitel's IP-based call control devices and applications. Office Communicator also will be able to connect external users to the enterprise through the public network, use telephony and presence features from the Mitel platform and support eight-party ad hoc conference-calling among Communicator users.

NEC will use SIP to integrate NEC Presence features with LCS and Communicator. Users will be able to access availability and presence information, and manage calls among computers and desktop phones.

Microsoft is integrating its server and client with Nortel Converged Office products. Communicator integrated with Nortel Communication Server (CS) 1000 will give users presence information and access from PC-based or desk phones. The software to integrate the pieces is already available, the two companies said.

Siemens and Microsoft said they are now delivering a set of presence-based call, video, Web conferencing, and collaboration products and services based on LCS, Communicator and Siemens HiPath OpenScape product family.


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Network World

VoiceCon: Cisco SIP upgrade could require broader network tweaking

By Phil Hochmuth - 03/06/06

Cisco's update to its CallManager IP PBX - introduced this week with native SIP support - will require broader upgrades to other network infrastructure gear beyond the data center were the CallManager sits, according to Cisco.

Unified CallManager 5.0 introduces native SIP support, which allows the platform to interact with other SIP-based client and server presence applications, such as Microsoft Office Communicator, as well Cisco's own Unified Presence Server and client software, being introduced this week. But an upgrade to 5.0 could have ripple affects across other gear, including IOS software upgrades routers in branch offices, as well as IP phone firmware, and possibly server configurations and corporate dial plans, the vendor says.

Along with the new CallManager, Cisco is also introducing a new version of its Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRST) technology, which runs on branch office routers, tying in remote IP phones to a centralized CallServer infrastructure. Upgrading the CallManager in a data center will also require wide-scale upgrades to both SRST and the IOS versions running on Cisco routers in the field, the vendor says.

"What we've done with SRST is build SIP natively into IOS," says Barry O'Sullivan, vice president and general manager of Cisco's voice technology group. In the instance of a WAN failure in a branch, the integrated SIP features allow end users to continue using SIP-based applications, while SRST provides local call control and phone access to the PSTN, he says. However, "you would have to upgrade the routers you want to have SRST to version 3.4 to add SIP support," says Alex Hadden-Boyd, director of marketing for IP Communications at Cisco.

Cisco also released Unified CallManager Express 3.4 - software which runs in a blade inside Cisco routers, providing local call control and telephony features beyond SRST's emergency failover support. An upgrade to the Version 3.4 is needed to integrate CallManager Express nodes with an upgraded CallManager 5.0 at a central site, Cisco says.

In a data center, administrators will be able to cluster Unified CallManager 5.0 similar to past CallManager servers, but with some caveats. To support large-scale CallManager networks with tens of thousands of phones, Cisco uses a proprietary clustering software to tie together separate CallManagers as one large system.

However, CallManager 5.0 servers cannot be clustered together with severs running older versions of CallManager, Cisco says. Unified CallManager 5.0 servers running Windows and Linux also cannot be clustered.

"You can have [older versions] of CallManager and CallManager 5.0 under the same dial plan, but the must be on separate clusters," says O'Sullivan, Cisco's voice group manager. An inter-cluster trunk, which runs over a Gigabit Ethernet link, allows software in one cluster to communicate with software in another, he says.

"Another thing you can do for a migration plan is to move SIP phones and [older] Cisco IP phones on the same cluster," O'Sullivan says.

Any IP phone connecting to a new CallManager 5.0 also have to upgrade its firmware. This is less of a challenge, O'Sullivan says, since checking for software updates is part of the registration process that happens automatically when IP phones are brought online. However, phones may have to be turned on and off to force them to re-registration with CallManager 5.0 and download the new software. (Previous versions of Cisco IP phones that ran a SIP stack - the 7960 version, in particular - won't work with the new SIP-based CallManager, and will have to re-register to upgrade).

(Cisco says CallManager 5.0 can also support its proprietary Skinny Call Control Protocol - SCCP, known as just "Skinny," - used in previous versions, but IP phones would still need to re-register with the new CallManager in order to work.)

Lastly, with CallManager 5.0, the new platform also offers a choice of server operating systems on which to run the IP PBX software. CallManager hardware can now be pre-configured with either Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or a specialized appliance version of Linux.

"Up until now, CallManager was available only on an open windows platform. Now they have a choice. The Linux model is more closed and contained and a lot of customers wanted that. But certain amount of customers want us to continue with the Microsoft platform as well," O'Sullivan says.

One CallManager user tracking the 5.0 release says the switch to a Linux-based server is a welcome move, but not a reason to run out and upgrade right away.

"We won't be the first out of the chute," with CallManager 5.0 says Glen Waltman, principal IT technician at Air Products, which installed a converged Cisco VoIP/data network two years ago.

"CallManager has been running fine on Windows, except for all the patches that go with running a Microsoft System," he says. "I don't know if that would change with a Linux platform. but probably not." Waltman says since Linux would also requires patching and software maintenance. "Nothing's perfect," he adds.


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Network World

Voicecon: New IP gear aims to improve virtualized call centers

By Phil Hochmuth - 03/06/06

Making customer contact centers more flexible and giving call agents more productive tools are among the many features being introduced with a slew of product launches at Voicecon this week.

Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Inter-Tel and Spanlink are among the vendors that will introduce new VoIP-based server software and applications for call centers at the show. Among the capabilities vendors are touting are improved remote support for work-at-home agents, monitoring and recording of customer IP-based calls for quality monitoring and reporting.

The ability to virtualize call centers with IP and VoIP applications is becoming more important as businesses decentralize traditional large customer contact centers to save money and broaden their availability. IDC predicts that around 112,000 remote or home-based call center agents work in the U.S. today, but that number will grow to over 300,000 by 2010. The reason? Traditional call centers cost around $31 per hour per employee to run, while remote agents cost $21, IDC says.

Alcatel, and its CRM/contact center arm Genesys, are introducing the OmniTouch Contact Center Premium Edition, a product that combines the Genesys 7 contact center software with the latest version of Alcatel's OmniPCX IP PBX server. Aimed at small businesses, the product can support up to 150 agents and includes an interactive voice response (IVR) server for call answering, as well as SIP-based collaboration tool for agents, which combines presence, instant messaging, application sharing and conferencing via phone or Web. The Genesys CRM software also allows for contact center reporting and third party software integration, among other features.

Avaya, along with its larger SIP-based product push at Voicecon, is launching Version 3.1 of its Customer Contact Center, which runs on its Communications Manager IP PBX platform. The new version of the software allows for more call routing rules, up to 2,000, which can be used to control the flow of customer calls to the correct agent groups based on skills, availability, location or other criteria.

Inter-Tel is adding new features in its Customer Contact Suite (CCS) 4.0 for improving call agent performance as well as back-end administration of systems. For agents, the software (which runs on the vendor's SIP-based Inter-Tel 5000 IP PBX) allows agents to receive customer phone calls and e-mail inquiries in a single interface queue. Call center managers can also track voice and e-mail customer interactions together to see an overall view of a contact center's performance. A new remote management tool also allows IT staff to manage and make changes to multiple CCS 4.0 systems running at off-site locations.

Cisco, with its introduction of its new Unified CallManager 5.0 IP PBX, is also introducing a new version of its Customer Interaction Analyzer software. The product runs in the background of a Cisco-based IP Contact Center (IPCC) network and records all customer interactions. According to Cisco, and its application development partner Spanlink, the software uses speech recognition and pattern matching technologies to identify trends in customer calls, such as caller dissatisfaction, agent stress, or patters of similar calls grouped together which could be correlated to events affecting a business.

Spanlink, which makes call center software exclusively for Cisco's IPCC product, is also introducing software under its own brand that allows call center agents to quickly access background data and materials in order to answer customer call questions faster. AnswerCenter 2.0 uses speech recognition and IVR technology that allows agents to ask for information from such sources as online product manuals, reference sheets, reports, and other materials. The AnswerCenter is configured by pointing the software to data sources, and then providing voice access to the data through IVR. Business can also configure customer-facing IVR systems with AnswerCenter to offer self-service features to customers. The software runs as a feature inside the Cisco Agent Desktop client for IPCC.


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VoiceCon: IP communications drives business transformation at Cisco, CEO says

By Phil Hochmuth - 03/07/06

Cisco CEO John Chambers used his keynote at the VoiceCon show in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday to explain the benefits his company sees in its own IP telephony and unified communications network, and urged his business customers to follow his company's lead - and quick.

Chambers said IP telephony technology will be the key productivity driver for business across all vertical industries over the next 10 years. His message coincided with the vendor's launch of its SIP-based CallManager IP PBX and presence application platform - which ties end users together with voice, video, instant messaging and presence location capabilities.

"The No. 1 issue [driving convergence] will be about collaboration," Chambers said. "Collaboration is about unified communications and how to communicate with people in ways that they are most comfortable with."

Cisco uses its own collaboration and VoIP gear. Chambers said he plans to cut travel expenses for the company next year by as much as 20%. The driver for this will be more online collaboration through IP voice and video applications.

"That's what I'm gong to do - enforce a rethinking of how we're going to do communication and tele-presence," Chambers said. "I'm dramatically more productive when I'm not spending 22 hours on an airplane like I am this week."

Chambers said that Cisco's unified infrastructure, along with a realignment of its business processes, were looked upon favorably by the bond rating firms that recently scrutinized Cisco's $7 billion acquisition of Scientific-Atlanta, which was the first debt-financed buyout by Cisco.

"We borrowed money for the first time the other day," Chambers said. "It was a unique experience for us... The financial people analyze your ability to pay them back and look at your risk. I told them about how we were changing our organization structure - not physically, but virtually - and the part that unified communications plays in that. It shocked me these were bean counters. but they understood that unified communications was a sustainable differentiator that will enable us to take on competitors."

Chambers said network professionals will have to anticipate the communication demands of corporate executives before developing a strategy for VoIP, unified communications and video. This requires organizations to look at switching, routing and security infrastructure that can provide a high-quality application experience without leaving an organization open to the new threats that VoIP and convergence could introduce.

"By that time it becomes obvious what to do," Chambers said. "By the time executives asks for it, it's too late if [you] haven't built that infrastructure already to support it."


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Voicecon: New IP gear aims to improve virtualized call centers

By Phil Hochmuth - 03/06/06

Making customer contact centers more flexible and giving call agents more productive tools are among the many features being introduced with a slew of product launches at Voicecon this week.

Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Inter-Tel and Spanlink are among the vendors that will introduce new VoIP-based server software and applications for call centers at the show. Among the capabilities vendors are touting are improved remote support for work-at-home agents, monitoring and recording of customer IP-based calls for quality monitoring and reporting.

The ability to virtualize call centers with IP and VoIP applications is becoming more important as businesses decentralize traditional large customer contact centers to save money and broaden their availability. IDC predicts that around 112,000 remote or home-based call center agents work in the U.S. today, but that number will grow to over 300,000 by 2010. The reason? Traditional call centers cost around $31 per hour per employee to run, while remote agents cost $21, IDC says.

Alcatel, and its CRM/contact center arm Genesys, are introducing the OmniTouch Contact Center Premium Edition, a product that combines the Genesys 7 contact center software with the latest version of Alcatel's OmniPCX IP PBX server. Aimed at small businesses, the product can support up to 150 agents and includes an interactive voice response (IVR) server for call answering, as well as SIP-based collaboration tool for agents, which combines presence, instant messaging, application sharing and conferencing via phone or Web. The Genesys CRM software also allows for contact center reporting and third party software integration, among other features.

Avaya, along with its larger SIP-based product push at Voicecon, is launching Version 3.1 of its Customer Contact Center, which runs on its Communications Manager IP PBX platform. The new version of the software allows for more call routing rules, up to 2,000, which can be used to control the flow of customer calls to the correct agent groups based on skills, availability, location or other criteria.

Inter-Tel is adding new features in its Customer Contact Suite (CCS) 4.0 for improving call agent performance as well as back-end administration of systems. For agents, the software (which runs on the vendor's SIP-based Inter-Tel 5000 IP PBX) allows agents to receive customer phone calls and e-mail inquiries in a single interface queue. Call center managers can also track voice and e-mail customer interactions together to see an overall view of a contact center's performance. A new remote management tool also allows IT staff to manage and make changes to multiple CCS 4.0 systems running at off-site locations.

Cisco, with its introduction of its new Unified CallManager 5.0 IP PBX, is also introducing a new version of its Customer Interaction Analyzer software. The product runs in the background of a Cisco-based IP Contact Center (IPCC) network and records all customer interactions. According to Cisco, and its application development partner Spanlink, the software uses speech recognition and pattern matching technologies to identify trends in customer calls, such as caller dissatisfaction, agent stress, or patters of similar calls grouped together which could be correlated to events affecting a business.

Spanlink, which makes call center software exclusively for Cisco's IPCC product, is also introducing software under its own brand that allows call center agents to quickly access background data and materials in order to answer customer call questions faster. AnswerCenter 2.0 uses speech recognition and IVR technology that allows agents to ask for information from such sources as online product manuals, reference sheets, reports, and other materials. The AnswerCenter is configured by pointing the software to data sources, and then providing voice access to the data through IVR. Business can also configure customer-facing IVR systems with AnswerCenter to offer self-service features to customers. The software runs as a feature inside the Cisco Agent Desktop client for IPCC.


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VoiceCon: Cisco, IBM demonstrate telephony integration

By John Fontana - 03/06/06

IBM Global Services said Monday that it is forging a partnership with Cisco as part of its efforts next year to revamp its real-time collaboration platform.

The two giants showed off at this week's VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Fla., a customized plug-in for Sametime 7.5 that will integrate the platform with Cisco's Unified CallManager and Unified Presence Server. The integration is based around the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE).

Cisco made a similar announcement Monday with Microsoft to support CallManager on the Microsoft Live Communications Server and Office Communicator client.

Sametime 7.5 is slated to ship later this year and includes a new user interface with enhanced "click-to-call, video, instant messaging and e-mail capabilities.

The Sametime plug-in aggregates IP phone presence information for display in the Sametime Connect client. The click-to-call functionality in 7.5 lets users click on a name in their Sametime contact list in order to place a call via a Cisco Unified IP Phone. Users also can send an instant message to a Cisco IP phone from the Sametime client. Integration between Sametime and the Cisco Unified Presence Server will let users send an IM from their Cisco IP phone to Sametime clients. In addition, the Presence Server will publish the Sametime status for each contact stored in the Cisco Unified IP Phone.

IBM said the integration with the Cisco platform will be available from IBM Global Services.

"The value of presence and telephony convergence comes from being able to communicate with whatever presence and telephony system a business may be using," said a Lotus spokesman. "Today's announcement further extends the ecosystem of telephony vendors working with Lotus Sametime 7.5."


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VoiceCon: Cisco SIP upgrade could require broader network tweaking

By Phil Hochmuth - 03/06/06

Cisco's update to its CallManager IP PBX - introduced this week with native SIP support - will require broader upgrades to other network infrastructure gear beyond the data center were the CallManager sits, according to Cisco.

Unified CallManager 5.0 introduces native SIP support, which allows the platform to interact with other SIP-based client and server presence applications, such as Microsoft Office Communicator, as well Cisco's own Unified Presence Server and client software, being introduced this week. But an upgrade to 5.0 could have ripple affects across other gear, including IOS software upgrades routers in branch offices, as well as IP phone firmware, and possibly server configurations and corporate dial plans, the vendor says.

Along with the new CallManager, Cisco is also introducing a new version of its Survivable Remote Site Telephony (SRST) technology, which runs on branch office routers, tying in remote IP phones to a centralized CallServer infrastructure. Upgrading the CallManager in a data center will also require wide-scale upgrades to both SRST and the IOS versions running on Cisco routers in the field, the vendor says.

"What we've done with SRST is build SIP natively into IOS," says Barry O'Sullivan, vice president and general manager of Cisco's voice technology group. In the instance of a WAN failure in a branch, the integrated SIP features allow end users to continue using SIP-based applications, while SRST provides local call control and phone access to the PSTN, he says. However, "you would have to upgrade the routers you want to have SRST to version 3.4 to add SIP support," says Alex Hadden-Boyd, director of marketing for IP Communications at Cisco.

Cisco also released Unified CallManager Express 3.4 - software which runs in a blade inside Cisco routers, providing local call control and telephony features beyond SRST's emergency failover support. An upgrade to the Version 3.4 is needed to integrate CallManager Express nodes with an upgraded CallManager 5.0 at a central site, Cisco says.

In a data center, administrators will be able to cluster Unified CallManager 5.0 similar to past CallManager servers, but with some caveats. To support large-scale CallManager networks with tens of thousands of phones, Cisco uses a proprietary clustering software to tie together separate CallManagers as one large system.

However, CallManager 5.0 servers cannot be clustered together with severs running older versions of CallManager, Cisco says. Unified CallManager 5.0 servers running Windows and Linux also cannot be clustered.

"You can have [older versions] of CallManager and CallManager 5.0 under the same dial plan, but the must be on separate clusters," says O'Sullivan, Cisco's voice group manager. An inter-cluster trunk, which runs over a Gigabit Ethernet link, allows software in one cluster to communicate with software in another, he says.

"Another thing you can do for a migration plan is to move SIP phones and [older] Cisco IP phones on the same cluster," O'Sullivan says.

Any IP phone connecting to a new CallManager 5.0 also have to upgrade its firmware. This is less of a challenge, O'Sullivan says, since checking for software updates is part of the registration process that happens automatically when IP phones are brought online. However, phones may have to be turned on and off to force them to re-registration with CallManager 5.0 and download the new software. (Previous versions of Cisco IP phones that ran a SIP stack - the 7960 version, in particular - won't work with the new SIP-based CallManager, and will have to re-register to upgrade).

(Cisco says CallManager 5.0 can also support its proprietary Skinny Call Control Protocol - SCCP, known as just "Skinny," - used in previous versions, but IP phones would still need to re-register with the new CallManager in order to work.)

Lastly, with CallManager 5.0, the new platform also offers a choice of server operating systems on which to run the IP PBX software. CallManager hardware can now be pre-configured with either Microsoft Windows Server 2003 or a specialized appliance version of Linux.

"Up until now, CallManager was available only on an open windows platform. Now they have a choice. The Linux model is more closed and contained and a lot of customers wanted that. But certain amount of customers want us to continue with the Microsoft platform as well," O'Sullivan says.

One CallManager user tracking the 5.0 release says the switch to a Linux-based server is a welcome move, but not a reason to run out and upgrade right away.

"We won't be the first out of the chute," with CallManager 5.0 says Glen Waltman, principal IT technician at Air Products, which installed a converged Cisco VoIP/data network two years ago.

"CallManager has been running fine on Windows, except for all the patches that go with running a Microsoft System," he says. "I don't know if that would change with a Linux platform. but probably not." Waltman says since Linux would also requires patching and software maintenance. "Nothing's perfect," he adds.


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Mitel upgrades call-center software

By Tim Greene - 03/13/06

Mitel is upgrading its call-center software to make management of dispersed agents simpler.

The Customer Interaction Solution is a combination of software and a Mitel IP PBX, the 3300 IP Communications Platform.

The upgrades, which were announced at last week's VoiceCon show, parallel features being added to equipment from competitors Alcatal, Avaya, Cisco, Inter-Tel and Spanlink.

The software includes Mitel Visual Architect, management software that gives supervisors a map of an automated call-distribution configuration and the ability to modify the configuration.

It can shift calls from a swamped part of a call center to a part where there is less traffic, says Dougal McLean, CIO of PC help desk firm YourTech Online in Kelowna, British Columbia.

"You don't have to call a call technician to do that. It's all there on the screen," says McLean, whose company has been using Mitel gear for four years to support its agents, all of whom work from home.

The software also features Mitel Visual Queue, which can flag premier customers waiting for an agent to pick up, and lets a supervisor give them priority by moving them forward in the queue or sending the call to an alternate answering point. If a customer or group of customers are stuck in a queue, they can be dragged and dropped into a different queue where the wait will be shorter, McLean says.

Visual Queue can flag calls that go on longer than average so supervisors can find trouble spots more readily where intervention might help. The software upgrade supports virtual call centers consisting of agents who may be working from dispersed locations and who connect to the call center via IP phones or Mitel's new automatic call-distribution softphone.

The software gives supervisors a tool to designate which remote workers will be associated with specific agent groups, such as agents in a bank call center who have expertise in mortgages. They will be assigned to the same groups and have calls distributed to them as if they were all in the same physical call center.

The software also supports a feature called hot desking, in which agents can log on to the call center from a Mitel IP phone or Mitel softphone and have the PBX download their personal settings, such as programmable keys and speed dials.

Mitel also is introducing a call-center software package for small businesses called Contact Center Business Edition. The package, which is aimed at customers with as many as 25 agents, contains fewer advanced features than Mitel's full-blown Contact Center Enterprise Edition. For example, the business version has scaled-down reporting and real-time monitoring.

The new software and business bundles are available next month at about $600 per seat.


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Microsoft builds partnerships for run at VoIP

By John Fontana - 03/13/06

Microsoft last week lined up additional back-end partners it will need to support its real-time collaboration platform and VoIP client. The company plans to give corporate users a full range of voice communication features through software that supports integration between any PC-based device or service and traditional cell or wireline phones.

The partnerships, including those with Cisco and a number of telco partners, focus on support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), and the integration of traditional phone systems and the PC.

At the annual VoiceCon show Microsoft said Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel and Siemens will integrate call-control capabilities with Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS), Office Communicator 2005 desktop client and Office Communicator Mobile.

"LCS and Communicator are not worth a whole lot without the back end," says Rob Enderle, president of the Enderle Group. "They have to have the back end in place, or the other parts don't move."

SIP is lauded for its openness and flexibility, but many vendors, such as Avaya, Cisco and Nortel, balked at building pure-SIP versions of their telco gear, citing feature limitations.

Those limitations are eroding, making it easier for vendors to build integrated products.

"This allows enterprises to begin to unify LCS with other projects, such as rolling out Cisco CallManager," says Irwin Lazar, an analyst with Burton Group. "When those users discovered that CallManager did not work with LCS they were the people going to Cisco and Microsoft saying you need to figure this out quickly."

The integration of Microsoft's products with those from Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel and NEC will let users launch and answer PBX-based and IP PBX phone calls and view phone-presence information from the Office Communicator client. The same client will let users switch between instant messaging and voice sessions. Microsoft also reiterated similar integration projects that are now available from Nortel and Siemens.

Microsoft plans to release the next version of its Office Communicator client later this year with Office 2007. The client features include enhanced voice and video, but also focus on telephony integration.

Microsoft plans to extend voice features to Office Groove, its peer-to-peer network client, which will be integrated with Communicator.

Analysts says Microsoft's goal is to own the real-time communication client interface on the desktop, mobile client and softphone regardless of how calls are routed or completed on the back end.

"Our Unified Communications Group is focused on building a software platform and services that deliver a unified communications experience . . . across all modes of communication, including e-mail, instant messaging, VoIP and audio/video/Web conferencing," a Microsoft spokesman says.

The integration of Microsoft and Cisco products is centered on the newly renamed Unified CallManager, formerly called CallManager 5.0, which will be integrated with LCS and Communicator.

Cisco also plans to integrate the two Microsoft products with its Unified Presence Server and Unified Personal Communicator, which let users see the availability status of colleagues. It supports combining voice, video, chat, e-mail and messaging into a single interface.

Also last week, IBM said its Global Services Division has developed a customized plug-in for Sametime 7.5 that will integrate the platform with Unified CallManager and Unified Presence Server. The integration also is based on SIP and SIMPLE.


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VoiceCon reporter's notebook: Dallas Cowboys on IP phones

NetworkWorld.com, 03/07/06

How 'bout them IP phones?

IP telephony doesn't win football games for the Dallas Cowboys. But having integrated IP applications and voice does let the organization's coaches, staff and employees be more organized and share information quickly, said Pete Walsh, Head of Technology, Dallas Cowboys, speaking at the VoiceCon show this week.

The Cowboys, in their "third season" with a 3Com-based IP telephony network, use a mix of mobile IP devices such as smartphones and PDAs that let the team's staff do more than just talk to each other while out on the road.

"The interesting thing for us is developing the applications to go on those PDAs," Walsh said. One example is an application that allows scouts out in the field to blend data, voice and images. "Scouts can take a picture of a running back at the [NFL scouting] combine, have all of his data come up right there on the screen, and be able to download it back to an application" at team headquarters, while discussing the prospect over the phone.

The technology is a hit at the highest levels of the organization. "Who would of thought that [head] coach [Bill] Parcells is a closet IT geek," said Walsh. "He's got a PDA, a Palm Pilot and computers all over the place."

IP telephony helps Allstate handle good and bad times

Allstate Insurance CIO Catherine Brune speaking at VoiceCon this week said the insurance company uses IP telephony to extend call center capabilities to employees who may usually work in other roles. The idea is that all employees can help when call centers become overwhelmed, or when PSTN service to certain centers is interrupted: both of these were cases recently during hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.

"When I became CIO, there's something I'm going to fix," in Allstate's call centers, Brune says. "And that was, when disaster strikes, to have all of our employees, no matter where they sit in the company to help us with those calls ... This was something that is only possible with IP telephony."

Allstate, an Avaya shop, uses VoIP transport among call centers in the U.S. and offshore to reroute calls among sites. IP telephony also lets office workers with IP phones or softphones on PCS, who are located in non-call center facilities, tap into the automatic call distributors (ACD) in the call centers and handle customers.

AT&T looks to open source telephony

AT&T says it is looking more at open-source as an important technology for delivering business VoIP services.

Open source PBXs in particular are of great interest to the carrier, said Eric Shepcaro, vice president of business strategy and development for AT&T. In an interview at VoiceCon, he said that technology such as Digium's Asterisk-based IP PBX could help AT&T by letting the services AT&T delivers interact more tightly with the customer-premise-based call server. Having access to source code could let AT&T deliver applications over its IP network more smoothly, Shepcaro says.

"It's not that it's a challenge to provider services to proprietary" IP PBX systems, such as Avaya and Cisco, which AT&T can interface with, he says. "With open source, you can play with that source code and deploy new features more quickly."

Having access to IP PBX source code and fine-tuning the device to the service could also lead to better service level agreement management and performance among AT&T and customers.

Shepcaro says open-source IP telephony is already in AT&T's labs. Without naming names, he says industry watchers can expect a partnership to come soon between AT&T and an open-source IP telephony provider.

A VoIP double-edged sword

One IT professional speaking at the VoiceCon show gave his views on the ups and downs of running a mixed-vendor IP telephony network.

Jamie Libow, telecommunications manager at St. Paul Travelers -- the financial/insurance conglomerate -- runs both Cisco and Avaya IP PBXs with phones on thousands of desktops, in offices located in Hartford, Conn., and St. Paul Minn. He says having both products lets him get his hands on the best available technology being developed, and to push the vendors to improve their gear and applications.

"Having this split environment can be a double-edged sword," Libow says. "It's a lot easier to bring products in house and test them ourselves, then to read a whitepaper on it."

On the other hand, he says, "There are a lot of people [at VoiceCon] from Cisco and Avaya who know me," he says. "I happen to have divorced parents. In some ways, I feel like I'm with my parents here [at the show] ... being pulled in one direction and then the other."

AT&T buy: Bad but inevitable

VoiceCon showgoers had two basic reactions to AT&T's proposed $67 billion takeover of BellSouth - "bad but inevitable" and "bad but let's hope it never goes through."

Most of the attendees interviewed said the merger puts AT&T back into the very monopoly position that the courts tried to remedy when it broke up AT&T back in 1984. "Judge Greene is rolling over in his grave," said one attendee.

Others had concerns that were less philosophical and more immediate. Patrice Bennett is the datacom manager for the Duval County Health Department in Jacksonville, Fla. She says she is currently seeking proposals from vendors for a Cisco-based IP telephony system, and BellSouth is one of the bidders.

"This makes me wonder if BellSouth engineers will be around" after the merger. She says she's heard rumors that the merger would mean layoffs and it make sense to her that it's the Bell South people that will be taking the biggest hit. The announcement is making her "more hesitant" to make a long-term commitment to BellSouth, she says.

Taking the "bad but inevitable" tack is David Cheplick, telecommunications director for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. From his inside-the-beltway perspective, Cheplick predicts that the deal will go through because the regulatory climate under the current administration is favorable to this type of merger activity.

Fewer players will mean less innovation, according to Cheplick. But he calls the merger "one of those inevitable moves."

From the heartland in Wisconsin, Craig Hadley, a team leader at Kimberly Clark Corp., is predicting that federal regulators will kill the deal. "It's not going to go through," he says, "It's a re-creation of Ma Bell."

Like most attendees, Hadley has relationships with multiple players involved in the merger, including AT&T, SBC and Cingular. His most immediate worry that AT&T will start to "kick up prices" for Cingular Wireless.

Price is also a concern for Navid Ziyaeen, a vice president in the contact center at Merrill Lynch. "They're rebuilding AT&T back to the same old thing," he says. The end result will be less competition and higher prices.


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SIP bandwagon is loading up

By Tim Greene - 03/06/06

SIP, the VoIP call signaling and set-up protocol, is finally making its way into the products of the major VoIP vendors.

Based on announcements being made this week at VoiceCon, big vendors are drawing closer to SIP, including 3Com, Avaya, Cisco and Nortel.

The big advantage of this is that interoperable SIP means fewer islands of VoIP that are incapable of talking to each other or that require signaling gateways in order to get calls through. While VoIP in isolated settings can have its advantages, extending VoIP to anywhere has much more value.

If SIP adoption becomes universal, it will mean wider adaptation of VoIP because it becomes more practical as long as the implementations of SIP used by vendors are interoperable across vendors' gear. Interoperability is an ongoing process.

Still, the fact that vendors with big influence in VoIP are jumping on the SIP bandwagon indicates a milestone after which interoperability can be expected to follow quickly.


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Cisco, IBM demonstrate telephony integration

by John Fontana - 08/03/2006

IBM/Lotus said Monday that it is forging a partnership with Cisco as part of its efforts next year to revamp its real-time collaboration platform.

The two giants showed off at this week's VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Fla., a customized plug-in for Sametime 7.5 that will integrate the platform with Cisco's Unified CallManager and Unified Presence Server. The integration is based around the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE).

Cisco made a similar announcement Monday with Microsoft to support CallManager on the Microsoft Live Communications Server and Office Communicator client.

Sametime 7.5 is slated to ship next year and includes a new user interface with enhanced "click-to-call, video, instant messaging and e-mail capabilities.

The Sametime plug-in aggregates IP phone presence information for display in the Sametime Connect client. The click-to-call functionality in 7.5 lets users click on a name in their Sametime contact list in order to place a call via a Cisco Unified IP Phone. Users also can send an instant message to a Cisco IP phone from the Sametime client. Integration between Sametime and the Cisco Unified Presence Server will let users send an IM from their Cisco IP phone to Sametime clients. In addition, the Presence Server will publish the Sametime status for each contact stored in the Cisco Unified IP Phone.

IBM said the integration with the Cisco platform will be available from IBM Global Services.

"The value of presence and telephony convergence comes from being able to communicate with whatever presence and telephony system a business may be using," said a Lotus spokesman. "Today's announcement further extends the ecosystem of telephony vendors working with Lotus Sametime 7.5."


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Sidebar: Disasters Proving Mettle of IP Communications

By Matt Hamblen and Patrick Thibodeau

MARCH 13, 2006 (COMPUTERWORLD) - An IP-based communications system built into a rescue vehicle supplied by Anne Arundel County in Maryland is credited with helping to improve communications in New Orleans during the dark days after Hurricane Katrina.

The county designed the high-tech package for the vehicle last year. The work was completed just three weeks before the hurricane hit Louisiana, said Dave Chapman, president of Upperco, Md.-based Chapman Consultants LLC, which served as the integrator for the IP technology used in the vehicle.

Chapman discussed the vehicle's Katrina performance during a roundtable discussion on disaster preparedness at VoiceCon Spring 2006 in Orlando last week.

The IP technology in the vehicle, supplied by Arinc Inc. in Annapolis, Md., helped make 17 different radio and communications systems interoperate after the storm. The vehicle was sent to Jefferson Parish, La., to provide communications support for walk-in medical clinics, according to Chapman.

Anne Arundel County officials designed the vehicle to be a communications hub in the event that the county's emergency operations center became unavailable. The communications system was designed to be interoperable with those of any agency in Maryland, as well as with those of jurisdictions bordering the state, Chapman said.

"It operated flawlessly for more than three weeks in Louisiana, all on generator power," he said.

Chapman said the Anne Arundel success story is just one example of how IP technology can provide the "common language" needed to provide communications interoperability across many thousands of jurisdictions in the U.S. for first responders.

Users attending the Computerworld Premier 100 conference last week in Palm Desert, Calif., added several more examples during a panel discussion.

Greg Meffert, chief technology officer and CIO for New Orleans, said that although half the city remains without working land lines more than six months after Katrina, VoIP-enabled networks have been operating since a few days after the storm.

Meffert said some workers at New Orleans City Hall had started using VoIP phones before the deadly storm hit on Aug. 29. The city has since been expanding the technology's use, he said.

Jan Rideout, CIO at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, which has facilities in the New Orleans area, said that before the storm, the company had a three-year plan to install VoIP and wireless networks. That rollout has since been accelerated to 18 months. "It's a big part of our recovery, and we believe it's the way to go," Rideout said.

Chapman said governments in the U.S. "could quickly, in a matter of months, convert to IP-based technology for emergency responders. The real question is political and budgetary."


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VoiceCon: Avaya CEO says VoIP may not lower costs

By Matt Hamblen

MARCH 08, 2006 (COMPUTERWORLD) - ORLANDO -- Avaya Inc. CEO Don Peterson surprised some IT managers at VoiceCon Spring 2006 today by declaring that they should not deploy IP telephony expecting to lower communications costs. Instead, they should look at it as a way to improve business operations.

Peterson's comments, delivered in a keynote address to most of the 5,000 conference attendees, stood in stark contrast to several presentations from representatives of businesses well on the way to outfitting their companies with new networks, phones and applications based on IP who said they have already saved money.

Some of those IT managers have reported millions of dollars in annual savings, thanks to reductions in long-distance call costs and a decrease in the amount of work for IT staffers who have to add or move phones. Other savings resulted from deploying only one data line to a desktop without the need for a separate, costly voice cable.

"We don't believe IP telephony is a cost-reduction case," Peterson said in his speech. "I fundamentally believe that the real value is not cost reduction, but how it changes the business."

Peterson was not available to elaborate on his comments later, but Jorge Blanco, Avaya's vice president of strategic marketing, said recent independent research and customer surveys have raised questions about earlier assertions of VoIP cost savings. As more systems have been rolled out, the return on investment issue is being clarified, he said.

"Don is trying to make a reality check in his comments," Blanco said. "There are operational and cost reductions, but we're trying to say, 'Don't go at this through the lens of saving money. Instead, lay the foundation to drive business strategy.'"

Some IT managers said they would never have won business approval for VoIP without cost savings as a part of the picture. Others said the business benefits are overwhelmingly positive and nearly immeasurable in a dollar sense.

For example, Catherine Brune, CIO at Allstate Insurance Co. in Northbrook, Ill., said her company and customers benefited from VoIP using Avaya technology with a data infrastructure from Cisco Systems Inc. after Hurricane Katrina. Allstate was able to quickly set up emergency trailers in the field to help with claims filing and to easily transfer calls to call centers hundreds of miles away, she said.

"This technology can enable a different business process," Brune said. When the network near New Orleans failed after the storm, Allstate was able to move to another carrier within 24 hours, thanks to the flexibility of VoIP. "If your job is to take care of customers, this is a technology for you."

Brune said IT managers might not be able to make a persuasive business case to get funds to start a VoIP deployment, and they might have to use internal funds to take early steps to prove the value of the technology in order to make the case for more funding later on.

Gary Bixby, director of support services for the school district of Cheltenham Township in Elkins Park, Pa., said the greatest value of a new Alcatel VoIP system in his district is that it improves emergency preparedness. Teachers can be discreetly informed of an emergency, such as an intruder in the school, over a graphical display on IP telephones, with a link to a Web site for more information, he said.

Bixby began researching VoIP more than a year ago and has deployed about 300 IP telephones, half the number being rolled out. Costs for the district will total $300,000 over five years, but Bixby has not calculated the value from added emergency preparedness and other benefits, including the need for fewer PCs.

In the future, the school district hopes to use Alcatel's IP telephony to interface with SIP-based videoconferencing technology, which would be invaluable for distance learning, he said. Tests of three videoconferencing systems are under way.

In comparison, some businesses have saved money on maintenance and toll calls. PPL Corp., for instance, saved more than $1 million a year with a VoIP system put in place two years ago, said Dave Stever, manager of communications technologies at PPL, an electricity supplier in Allentown, Pa.

Vantis Credit Union in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is basing a projection of a 15% to 20% improvement in revenue on Nortel Networks Ltd. IP-based videoconferencing kiosks that will be deployed in eight locations over the next two months, said CEO Michel Audette. The revenue boost would come from not having to staff offices in remote locations, as well as attracting competitors who might be interested in merging with Vantis, he said.

Another Nortel customer, Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga, Tenn., has seen productivity gains from Nortel technology, since nurses can respond quicker when a patient needs assistance, said John Haltom, network manager for the health care provider. The health system has 1,500 IP phone users, about 20% of the total it plans to deploy, he said.

Peterson's comments did not surprise Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston. "Peterson is absolutely correct," Kerravala said. "Business productivity is what you have to focus on. You get more bang for your buck by focusing on productivity than cost reduction."

Kerravala said there's a widespread impression that VoIP can save money, but the larger the organization -- and thus the larger the implementation -- the smaller the savings. "In a very large organization, in fact, going to VoIP could be more expensive," he said.


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Computerworld

Cisco, Avaya back unified communication

By Matt Hamblen

At the VoiceCon Spring 2006 conference this week, rivals such as Cisco Systems and Avaya are poised to announce support for each other's IP communications technologies under the banner of the Session Initiation Protocol and other open standards.

For example, Cisco Monday will announce native support for SIP as part of its new Unified Communications system. That capability will enable newer Cisco IP phones to work with third-party applications such as IBM's Lotus Sametime and Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2005.

Separately, Citrix Systems will announce plans to use SIP to integrate its network and application access tools with Cisco's communications software.

And Avaya will introduce a version of its Converged Communications Server that supports a broader range of SIP endpoints, including IP phones from Cisco. Avaya also plans to announce that it's working with about 50 companies, including Citrix, to develop communications applications based on SIP and other standards.

More Cooperation
After years of selling voice-over-IP products that didn't interoperate with one another, vendors are starting to cooperate more closely to bring voice, video and presence-awareness technologies to corporate desktops and handheld devices, analysts said.

"We're starting to hit that wave where interoperability and partnerships will define the long-term winners and losers," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research in Boston.

Cisco's new technology integrates voice, data and video in one system, said Barry O'Sullivan, vice president and general manager of the company's voice technology group.

The Unified Communications system will be sold under a per-user model, or its various components can be purchased separately, O'Sullivan said. New components include software that can aggregate user presence information on a network and from third-party devices, and an application that lets end users place voice and video calls by clicking on system icons or names that are contained in instant messages.

Randy Cook, director of global voice networks at Oracle, said he plans to upgrade major portions of his VoIP network in the next six months to Cisco's Unified CallManager 5.0 release and other components of the Unified Communications offering.

About 30,000 Oracle workers already use Cisco IP phones, and Cook said the company plans to expand the VoIP system to its entire 60,000-person workforce over the next 18 months.

Cook said he looks forward to having SIP functionality throughout the network and down to each phone. Cisco is "moving in the direction we've asked for and want," he said.

Telesphere, a provider of IP telephony managed services in Scottsdale, has been using Unified Communications internally for the past four months and began deploying the technology to its customers last month, said CEO Dave Thomas. The SIP-based presence capabilities can help users quickly locate co-workers in other offices worldwide, Thomas said.

Although Cisco and Avaya will make news at VoiceCon, which starts today in Orlando, analysts said that Siemens and Nortel Networks have had unified communications strategies for a while, but with some capability gaps.

"The really unique thing Cisco has done is to create a unified communications platform that it can deliver on its own," said Brent Kelly, an analyst at Wainhouse Research.


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InfoWorld

Convergence of voice and enterprise apps on call

By Mike Barton =- 3/6/2006

Cisco partners with Citrix, Microsoft to bring IM-like presence and click-to-call capabilities to their hosted and desktop applications

Fresh on the heels of Cisco announcing at the VoiceCon conference on Monday it had bundled its IP communications products, it unveiled separate partnerships with Citrix and Microsoft to integrate telephony with their network and desktop applications.

Cisco said it would collaborate with the two companies on technology and marketing of advanced voice-over-IP (VoIP) and real-time communications convergence with its products.

The Cisco Unified Communications system includes voice, e-mail, text, collaboration, videoconferencing, as well as the instant messaging-like presence capabilities.

Microsoft will integrate its Office Communicator 2005 and Open Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based Office Live Communications Server with Cisco's new unified system.

The integrated technology would allow "click to call" capability and transferring of computer or desk phone calls from Office Communicator.

The companies said presence status from Cisco's Unified Call Manager and Unified Presence Server would be available within Office Communicator, allowing users to switch between messaging and voice calls seamlessly.

Murli Thirumale, group vice president of Citrix Gateways, told InfoWorld.com Citrix was collaborating with Cisco to voice-enable a range of its hosted enterprise applications, such as Salesforce.com.

"These two worlds -- applications and telephony -- have largely been separate," Thirumale said. "There are many IT managers around the world who want to voice-enable their apps."

He said the relationship would first focus on integration of its Citrix Application Gateway and Office Voice products with Cisco's Unified Call Manager and Unified Presence Server. The combination will provide the SIP-based user presence and click-to-call capabilities to its Voice Office product on Cisco IP telephones and enterprise applications with its new Smart Agent gateway technology.

Thirumale said the Citrix-Cisco relationship would offer firms tested, packaged solutions, without the cost, complexity and risk of custom products.

Microsoft expects to introduce its converged products in August, and Citrix expects to in the second half of this year.

Gartner Research expects that by 2010, 80 percent of companies will have integrated communications such as voice and messaging into some business applications or processes, Citrix cited.

Elizabeth Herrell, vice president at Forrester Research, said companies were looking for such integration to "eliminate a lot of the steps that slows businesses down."

She said delays due to ineffective communications were eroding worker productivity. Better real-time accessibility of colleagues and customers, such as with presence and click to call, improved responsiveness.


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InfoWorld

Cisco unifies IP Communications products

By Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service - 3/6/06

Cisco bundles range of products covering voice, e-mail, text, collaboration, and videoconferencing

Cisco Systems is bundling up its tools for all kinds of communication in enterprises and giving the set an appropriately broad brand name: the Cisco Unified Communications system.

The range of products covers voice, e-mail, text, collaboration, and videoconferencing capabilities, as well as the ability to reach the right person on the first try on matter what device they are using through presence technology. It builds on Cisco's current lineup offered under the IP Communications banner, namely its CallManager, Unity, MeetingPlace, and IP Contact Center products, and adds three major new software products as well as new features.

With Monday's move, set to be announced at the VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Florida, Cisco is shifting from selling individual servers and applications for IP-based communications to focusing on the system as a whole, including technical support services. It will offer per-seat licensing and market those systems to business decision-makers based on business benefits such as productivity, said Vickie McGovern, director of marketing for IP Communications at Cisco.

The new products address three separate capabilities.
Cisco Unified Personal Communicator is designed to help users reach all their communications applications, such as voice calling, text messaging and videoconferencing, and move from one to another within the same desktop interface. It lets them search existing directories and see whether a contact is currently available and what device that person would prefer to use. Users can "click to call" from the directory to start a voice or videoconferencing session.

The Cisco Unified Presence Server collects information about users' availability on various devices and publishes that information to Cisco IP phones, Cisco Personal Communicator and third-party services and applications such as Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005 and IBM Lotus Sametime.

The Customer Interaction Analyzer monitors calls in which a customer talks to a live agent or automated system in a call center. It uses information from those calls, such as tone of voice and keywords, to determine whether customers are getting what they need and are happy with the level of service. The lessons gleaned can be used to direct subsequent calls, change procedures and train agents, according to Cisco. The system can be used with other vendors' phones, including traditional circuit-switched phones, McGovern said.

Cisco also is opening up its IP call control products to an outside developer community by adding native support for SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions). The company will verify that third-party applications and client devices work with Cisco's SIP-compliant products, though not Cisco's pre-standard extensions to the standard.

Though it is still immature, SIP will emerge as a glue that will let enterprises combine communication platforms and applications from many vendors, said Forrester Research analyst Elizabeth Herrell.

"SIP is going to force these vendors to stop being so proprietary," Herrell said. Cisco and other network players are emphasizing overall systems but they are also open to cooperation with software vendors such as Microsoft and IBM, she added.

"They want a common platform, but I'm not sure all the applications on that platform will be theirs," Herrell said.

The San Jose, California, company also is deepening cooperation with Nokia for mobile IP calling at enterprise sites, allowing a softphone client being developed by Nokia to register as a client on CallManager. This will let employees use the softphone as they would a conventional enterprise phone, with features such as four-digit extensions.

Randy Cook, director of global voice networks at Oracle, welcomes Cisco's adoption of SIP for call control. Use of the standard, instead of a proprietary protocol used previously, will allow for tighter integration with third-party software such as Oracle's own applications, he said. Cook is leading an aggressive rollout of IP telephony across the company, with Cisco's CallManager at the heart of the system. About 30,000 Oracle employees already use CallManager, and they want a unified interface for multiple communications applications on their desktops, Cook said.

Another good move on Monday will be the introduction of CallManager on a Linux-based hardware platform, Cook said. The appliance will run a hardened version of Linux based on a Red Hat's distribution of the open-source OS. He would like to move the software off Windows to a more stable OS that is less plagued by viruses, he said.


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InfoWorld

Cisco's Could Hit SMB VoIP Using SIP

By Oliver Rist - 03/06/06

Cisco just announced the Cisco Unified Communications System (UCS). If any of you have been talking to their sales people, then you've undoubtedly heard that they were developing software to run on top of all these VoIP hardware acquisitions they've been making.

Well, this is it. And the surprise is the Skinny isn't the main protocol...SIP is. SIP means compatibility and the capability to do lower-cost implementations. And that means fresh SMB meat--if Cisco decides to go that way.

This isn't just an end-to-end soft PBX, either. Cisco is separating Unified Communications into a separate software layer that runs on top of those solutions. They're breaking UCS up into three core platforms, Customer Interaction Analyzer, Personal Communicator, and Unified Presence Server.

Presence Server and Personal Communicator are client-side tools that (according to Cisco) should be able to interact with users via the stuff they may already use like MS Live Communications Server. Customer Interaction Analyzer is meant to do just that: monitor and analyze calls between your call staff and your customers.

UCS will be demoed at the upcoming VoiceCon show in Florida, which I won't be able to get to. So anyone out there, take a gander and let me know how this stuff actually runs.

I really hope they didn't screw this up by trying to force users onto their own client platform for unified messaging and such. If this doesn't integrate into Outlook and MS Communicator, it's dead.


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eWeek

Brabeion Tools Pare Down Compliance

By Caron Carlson - 03/06/06

To help large enterprises and government agencies simplify the process of conforming to federal data-handling mandates, Brabeion Software released new compliance management software the week of March 6 at the VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Fla.

The Brabeion Compliance Center 6.0 was designed to help reduce the cost of meeting the terms of regulations by implementing one comprehensive system throughout an organization.

The tools make it easier for network administrators to identify and mitigate compliance issues.

The upgraded software, which comes with a new, intuitive interface, includes modules for the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the Federal Information Systems Management Act, among others.

For the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, a subsidiary of BNSF Railway, based in Fort Worth, Texas, the greatest impact on the business in the past two years resulted from the Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, said Cherry Hanneman, senior manager of Enterprise Security at the railroad.

Open Text launches integrated compliance tools.

The company uses technology from Brabeion, based in McLean, Va., to maintain a consistent compliance environment throughout its widely dispersed operation.

The latest version of the software will allow the railroad to streamline its security policies according to employee function.

"One of the things we realized would be beneficial to our organization is to pull out the information that really only pertains to specific groups," Hanneman said. "Our policy is pretty big right now and we want to get it to the point where it isn't so scary to our [employees]."

Read details here about a Symantec partner program that aids with compliance.

The expertise of Burlington Northern Santa Fe's employees in using computers varies widely, but all 45,000 employees, including the crews that work in the yard, must be familiar with the network security policies, Hanneman said.

If the policy manual is more streamlined, employees are more likely to become familiar with it, she said.

"Right now the policy is probably about 40 pages long. To get through the whole thing would take probably several hours," she said. "I think we're probably going to have it down to a 10-page document that will be much more direct, and it shouldn't take more than a half hour to read."

Check out eWEEK.com's Compliance Center for the latest news, commentary and analysis on regulatory compliance.


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CNet news.com

Cisco adopts IP telephony standard

By Marguerite Reardon

Cisco Systems plans to finally adopt a key Internet Protocol telephony standard, allowing the addition of new network-service features and enabling companies such as Microsoft to integrate their communications products with Cisco gear.

On Monday, at the VoiceCon 2006 conference in Orlando, Fla., Cisco said it will add support for session initiation protocol, or SIP, to its IP PBX software. The new version of the product, CallManager 5.0, will include SIP capabilities for Cisco IP phones, presence-awareness software and multimedia communications software.

SIP is used to establish contact between IP phones and to add special features--such as presence awareness, video or mobility capabilities--onto a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) network. The standard also makes it possible for companies deploying VoIP to mix and match the products they use, significantly lowering the cost of deploying a VoIP network.

Cisco had been the only major supplier in the market not to support SIP in its IP PBX software. Cisco sees the addition of SIP as an important step in being able to provide customers more features.

"IP telephony isn't just about toll bypass anymore," said Barry O'Sullivan, vice president of IP communications for Cisco. "It's about improving productivity and allowing people to do their jobs more effectively. And people need to be able to communicate and collaborate through the means that suits them best."

CallManager 5.0 should work with any SIP-based phone, but Cisco said specifically it plans to support a "softphone" (or PC-based phone) client for Research In Motion's BlackBerry handheld as well as Nokia's new dual-mode phones.

In addition to the upgraded CallManager, Cisco announced other new products including the Unified Presence Server, which collects status and availability data from users' devices and feeds it to Cisco applications, and the Unified Personal Communicator, which allows users to see on their PCs or IP phones who is online.

As part of the announcement this week, Cisco said it is working with Microsoft to integrate its Office Communicator 2005 and Office Live Communications with Cisco's Unified Communications System. The integration means that users can launch a VoIP conversation directly from their Microsoft Outlook client. The interoperable package should be available in August 2006, the companies said.


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CNet news.com

Avaya CEO is right: VoIP is not just a "cost-reduction case"

By Russell Shaw

I didn't quite get down to VoiceCon Spring 2006 in Orlando, but something Don Peterson said today initially made my eyes pop out.

That is, up until I had a chance to think through what he said.

CEO of VoIP equipment and systems supplier Avaya Inc., (maker of the Avaya 4630 IP Screen Phone you see at the top) Peterson said that some IT managers should not deploy VoIP as a way to lower communications costs. Instead, he said, ITs should look at the technology as an operations enhancer.

"We don't believe IP telephony is a cost-reduction case," Peterson said. "I fundamentally believe that the real value is not cost reduction but how it changes the business."

My first thought was that statement bordered on the heretical. But as I have learned,part of being a thought leader is learning to lead yourself in thought. So I started processing just what the Avaya CEO said and why he said it.

Peterson was not available for comment after his keynote, but a high-ranking associate of his was. Jorge Blanco, whose Avaya business card bears the title of vice-president of strategic marketing,told Computerworld's Matt Hamblen that, as Matt writes, "recent independent research and customer surveys have raised questions about earlier assertions of VoIP cost savings."

So which should be the dominant reason for an enterprise to go VoIP? Cost savings or operational efficiency?

In one of my other hats, I am Features Editor of Von Magazine, a leading IP telephony trade book. I do two "What Works At Work" columns each month in which I ask enterprise-level VoIP users whether they got into VoIP to save money thru an ROI model, or as a way to increase operational and communications efficiencies.

The more intricate the operation- such as a company with several offices- I hear both. Sure,they love the cost savings VoIP provides over PSTN, but they embrace the sophisticated call management and control features that enterprise-level VoIP offers.

The smaller VoIP user- say the one-office law firm with three partners - the savings are the killer app.

All I am saying here is that it's not just the savings, nor the operational efficiency, but both.

Yes, Don Peterson is right.

What do you think, enterprise VoIP users? Did you get into VoIP because of the cost savings, the operational efficiencies (I promise not to use that phrase again for a long time) - or both? TalkBack and let's get a discussion started?


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CRN

Cisco Teams With Microsoft, Citrix On VoIP, Realtime Communications

By Paula Rooney 03/03/06

Cisco Systems has formed partnerships with Microsoft and Citrix Systems to better integrate voice-over-IP and realtime communications with enterprise applications.

According to the terms of the two separate deals, unveiled Monday at VoiceCon 2006 in Orlando, Fla., Cisco will collaborate with the two ISVs on technical and marketing fronts, enabling the development of integrated solutions for Cisco Unified CallManager and other Cisco products.

Plans call for Microsoft to integrate its Office Communicator 2005 and Open Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based Office Live Communications Server with Cisco's new SIP-based Unified Communications system. The interoperability solution is slated to be available in August for new installations and upgrades of current customers.

Cisco and Microsoft are developing a converged solution that offers desktop IP telephony call control, which would allow customers, for example, to click to call and transfer phone calls from Office Communicator without human intervention. Users also would be able to launch or answer a phone call from within Office Communicator and host the call from a PC or a desk phone, Microsoft said. The solution is based on SIP, SIP for Instant Messaging and presence leveraging extensions (SIMPLE).

The combined Cisco and Microsoft solution also would enable customers to view Cisco Unified IP Phone presence status from within Office Communicator and seamlessly switch between Office Communicator instant-messaging and voice sessions, the companies said.

Under the Cisco-Citrix partnership, the two companies aim to integrate presence and call-processing capabilities with enterprise applications deployed over Citrix's application delivery platforms. Initially, Cisco and Citrix have committed to integrating Citrix Application Gateway and the Citrix Voice Office suite with Cisco Unified CallManager and Cisco Unified Presence Server, said Murli Thirumale, group vice president of the Citrix Gateway Group.

That will add SIP-based user presence information and dialing capabilities to Citrix Voice Office applications on Cisco IP telephones and enterprise applications using Citrix's Smart Agent technology, Citrix said. The smart agent technology was introduced in October as part of the launch of Application Gateway 6.0.

Smart Agent, for example, can deliver application data from SAP to screens and speakers of IP phones and wireless devices. Citrix's Voice Office is a package of telephony applications that customers and solution providers can use out of the box.

Cisco and Citrix plan to demonstrate the presence-enabled applications at VoiceCon this week and to ship the first set of integrated products in the second half. Citrix also said at VoiceCon that it aims to add voice access to its access infrastructure solutions and offer them through the channel by the end of the year. In addition, Cisco agreed to market Citrix Application Gateway and the Citrix Voice Office suite through the Cisco Solutions Plus program.

One solution provider who partners with Citrix and Cisco said the vendors' alliance will enable him to provide value-added solutions to his Cisco customers that leverage Citrix technology--and to make more money.

"The Citrix Voice Office application suite enables enterprises to further leverage their IP telephony investments while increasing our margins and providing additional [professional services] opportunities," said Mark Westling, vice president and CTO of Right Systems, a Citrix partner in Olympia, Wash. "We have been working closely with Citrix's Application Gateway Group to provide these solutions to our customers."


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CRN

Cisco Revamps VoIP

Avaya also expands support for SIP, other upgrades

By Jennifer Hagendorf Follett - 03/06/06

Cisco Systems and Avaya, the top two VoIP vendors, are set to revamp their product lines this week with expanded support for SIP within their IP telephony platforms and related communications applications.

Both vendors will showcase their updates at VoiceCon Spring 2006 in Orlando, Fla., this week.

Cisco is set to launch Cisco Unified Communications, the next generation of its VoIP platform that upgrades its entire VoIP lineup and has been nearly two years in the making. With the launch, Cisco for the first time adds native SIP support, giving users presence capabilities, improved mobility features and the ability to support third-party SIP-based phones, said Richard McLeod, director of unified communications for worldwide channels at Cisco, San Jose, Calif.

The launch includes Unified CallManager 5.0, the upgrade to the vendor's call-processing platform, as well as the introduction of a new Linux-based appliance version of Unified CallManager 5.0. Other new products include Unified Presence Server, which collects status and availability data from users' devices and feeds it to Cisco applications, and the Unified Personal Communicator, the platform's "buddy list"-style user interface, which can be displayed on a PC or an IP phone.

"[The addition of SIP support] is going to change the whole way we communicate," said Jerry Bailey, president and COO of Digitel, an Atlanta-based Cisco channel partner. "Business will be presence-based, wherever you are," he said.

Bailey is projecting growth for Digitel of approximately 25 percent this year compared to 2005, an expansion that will be driven heavily by Cisco's new VoIP wares.

Solution providers said the lack of native SIP support had been a hole in Cisco's VoIP strategy, one which competitors that already include built-in SIP have tried to use against the vendor.

"Customers will feel more comfortable that it's compatible with the standard," said John Breakey, CEO of Cisco channel partner Unis Lumin, Oakville, Ontario.

Cisco also is launching new cost-saving communications application bundles that, together with the new products, should help partners increase the back-end rebates they get through its popular Value Incentive Program, McLeod said. Pricing for the new wares, some shipping now, others slated for spring and summer, was not immediately available.

Avaya, Basking Ridge, N.J., meanwhile, is overhauling its MultiVantage Communications Applications suite with advanced survivability, increased mobility and expanded SIP support and is launching a new peer-to-peer VoIP product for the SMB market dubbed Avaya one-X.

The new SMB lineup includes one-X Quick Edition, a plug-and-play SIP-based system for offices with fewer than 20 phones. The list price per phone ranges from $485 to $585 and includes an IP phone with embedded software, available now.


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Network Computing

VoiceCon '06 Coverage: Multifunctional Routers Get Hotter

Adtran's announcement of its NetVanta 7100 IP PBX makes them the latest vemdor to offer a multifunctional router.

By David Greenfield - 03/06/06

Adtran became the latest vendor to introduce a multifunctional router today when it announced its NetVanta 7100 IP PBX at the VoiceCon show in Orlando, Florida.

The NetVanta 7100 provides all the core data and voice functionality needed in an up to 50-person office. The 7100 offer a SIP-based, IP PBX and gateway and a voice mail system. Data capabilities include a router, Ethernet switch, firewall, VPN and CSU/DSU.

The device will to some extent compete with the Cisco 2811 and 2821 Integrated Service Router (ISR), but only in its port counts and configurations. The NetVanta is meant for small offices and does not provide a single systems image spanning multiple sites. The 2811 and 2821 are meant as branch office extensions, presume a Cisco Call Manager (CCM) in the main office, and can be managed and configured as part of a single system image. The 7100 ships in a 24-station configuration and expandable up to 40 stations or down to 10 stations.

The 2811, however, offers more switch capacity than the 7100, reaching up to 32 10/100 Ethernet switched ports instead of the 7100's 24-ports. But the 2811 also supports fewer IP telephony users, 36 instead of 50 on the NetVanta. The 2821 reaches 48 IP phone users, but also uses a larger Ethernet switch of 48 ports.

Pricing is expected to be at $545 and that includes the IP 501 Polycom phone.


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