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Bringing Voice Services to Business Applications
[January 11, 2006]

Bringing Voice Services to Business Applications


Brian Silver, CTO, BlueNote Networks
 
The most common question I hear being asked by IT managers today is “where will my users be when using their applications three years from now?” Trends are showing that the common answer to this rhetorical question is fast becoming “anywhere other than at their desk.” There are many more users coming “in here” from “out there” rather than just sitting “in here” to get “out there.” Broadband connectivity is turning more and more of us into migrant users or “application nomads.” Enterprise network design is moving away from the principals of “LAN+Backbone+WAN Uplink+firewall+VPN” to an “Always Connected, Always Chaperoned” approach. This leverages the Internet and emerging Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) to create networks that allow access not only for enterprise employees, but also for customers and partners. This connected network will truly blur the lines between “in here” and “out there.”


 
From an IP telephony perspective, this change has the ability to bring the enterprise’s telecom architecture in-line with its application architecture. By that, I mean the power of IP telephony doesn’t come from replacing the phone-jack with an Ethernet-jack. The power comes from when the interactive communications model starts to mirror the application architecture – servers, software, and modular service-oriented deployment models that leverage the same naming, database and security infrastructure that the traditional data applications leverage. Data applications today are focused on leveraging the Internet; reaching more customers and partners; and making business processes more efficient and productive. The problem with today’s phone systems, VoIP included, is that the centralized and desktop-focused PBX isn’t doing any of these things well. Leveraging the enterprise application infrastructure, including the Internet, hasn’t historically been the competency of the incumbent PBX supplier.

 
The answer to the problem is to leverage the emerging enterprise SOA for interactive communications much the way it’s leveraged for data communications. Breaking from the traditional mainframe/terminal model of PBX architectures, modular-software-based IP telephony systems enable the enterprise to deploy interactive services much the way they deploy application services. However, it is true that voice and video are different than email or instant-messaging, and as such there are some special architectural considerations when deploying these services:
           
1.      The incorporation of legacy voice equipment and leveraging the PSTN: There is nothing wrong with using the PSTN, and VoIP should be an addition to the telecom-toolbox, not a replacement for everything in it. But the PSTN and the PBX architecture have limitations. The PSTN has only one interface for its service – off-hook, dial, ring, on-hook – and cellular technology adds only mobility and ring-tones to this model. The enterprise PBX, including IP PBXes, are much the same as the mainframe was in the 1980s – focused on terminals – and the backhaul nature of the architecture forces a concentration of technology, keeping system costs extremely high. The PSTN is a globally reachable network, suitable for customer and partner communications, but without some IP technology, it is incredibly expensive to integrate into an SOA architecture. The task at hand now is building an enterprise telecommunication architecture that’s useful for the users as well as customers and partners in an architecture that’s the same as the emerging architecture for the “out there” data center applications. By creating an interworking environment for legacy and TDM/PSTN equipment, the enterprise can create a strong foundation on which emerging application technology and interactive services can coexist.
 
2.      Visibility and transport of IP-based interactive services: Voice and video are real-time services, and that means the time matters that it takes for the information to go from the source to the destination. The implications of VoIP on the underlying network infrastructure are somewhat different from non real-time data applications (like email or printing). Enterprises should plan for these real-time applications in their SOAs and incorporate tools for inspecting as well as managing real-time traffic from VoIP and applications. Software modules, deployed as services that focus on digital encoding/recoding, and route selection, based on real-time transport characteristics, are key elements of creating an SOA with interactive services.
 
3.      Federation and leveraging the Internet. Interactive services: These can be added to extranet and emerging Web-services solutions to allow partners, customers, and enterprise users to communicate with each other as well as traditional desktop telephone services. As business processes begin to be implemented “out there” as much as “in here,” creating federated interactive application platforms is as important as federated data application platforms. Other key elements of creating an SOA with interactive services include software modules deployed as services, which focus on identity management for calling parties as well as called parties; integration with enterprise and Internet-based trust brokers for third-party authentication and authorization for interactive access; and Internet-based voice communication services (e.g., Vonage®, GoogleTalk™).
 
CONCLUSION
 
Bringing voice services to business applications; enabling global reachability and federated partnerships; and leveraging an existing IT application infrastructure are key requirements for the enterprise looking to truly leverage IP telephony. The traditional PBX complex makes it hard, if not impossible, to coordinate interactive communications with enterprise Service Oriented Architectures (SOAs). Enterprises need to consider deploying modular, software-based IP telephony systems to bring telecom architectures in-line with existing application architectures.
 
Brian Silver is the chief technology officer with BlueNote Networks, which specializes in enterprise voice and multi-media software platforms, applications, tools and Web-service interfaces. He can be reached at bsilver@bluenotenetworks.com.

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