Enterprise session border controllers (E-SBCs) act as gatekeepers and translators in modern enterprise unified communications (UC) infrastructures. Very often, companies seek out E-SBCs only when they need to solve an integration or deployment challenge, rather than implement them as part of an overall session management strategy.
In the last year, however, E-SBC vendors have been expanding the capabilities of these edge devices by turning them into mobile phone virtual private networks (VPNs) and Web Real-Time Communications (WebRTC) protocol translators. These new roles and deployment opportunities not only offer an alternative for enterprises to address these new pain points and challenges, but also help refine the strategic importance of SBCs in the modern enterprise UC infrastructure.
Mobile apps drive new E-SBC sessions
Using E-SBCs to connect remote endpoints to UC platforms is not necessarily a new concept. In fact, it is a fairly common practice to connect the handful of phones in very small branch offices through an E-SBC rather than deploying a dedicated branch gateway. However, the crush of smartphones and bring-your-own-device policies within enterprises is definitely giving the notion of secure endpoints a renewed focus. E-SBCs already serve as gatekeepers to branch offices and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunks, so, instead of mobile users having to establish a VPN tunnel, they can simply connect to the E-SBC, which already offers secure connectivity to branch offices and elsewhere.
The lessons of consumerization are driving not just secure mobile access, but simple access from E-SBCs as well. If mobile UC applications require convoluted installations or an extra authentication step to use them, mobile users will simply refuse to adopt them.
For example, Avaya has been heavily promoting the VPN-less mobile connection capabilities in its Avaya SBC, its E-SBC product from its Sipera acquisition. For end-to-end UC vendors like Avaya, leveraging their own E-SBC products enables them to offer full functionality on their mobile UC applications without the overhead and complexity of VPN links. Unfortunately, this level of interoperability between a given E-SBC and a UC platform and its mobile applications is not universal -- particularly in multi-vendor environments. Enterprises interested in leveraging an E-SBC product to connect mobile users will need to understand both the capabilities and limitations of their deployed infrastructure before embarking on a VPN-less mobile UC project.
E-SBCs bring WebRTC translation at the network edge
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The battle lines are being drawn over where WebRTC will connect in enterprise UC platforms. With WebRTC standards firming up and support already built into Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox browsers, real-world deployments of Web-enabled communication applications are just on the horizon. Staking a claim as the logical broker for WebRTC applications, nearly every E-SBC vendor has included support for the standard in their product roadmap. Notably, for Siemens Enterprise Communications, WebRTC and their in-house E-SBC products are likely going to factor heavily in the upcoming Project Ansible.
In many ways, an E-SBC serving as a WebRTC application gateway makes a lot of sense. The primary goals for a WebRTC gateway will mirror those of what E-SBCs do for SIP services today: securing the network edge while providing translation services for WebRTC sessions into SIP sessions that existing UC platforms can understand. First and foremost, an E-SBC's location on the network edge is prime real estate to receive inbound traffic from Web browsers. Likewise, making the media conversion from WebRTC to traditional SIP sessions is a logical extension of what an E-SBC already does. All this translates into a strong message for the enterprise: Leverage your existing UC platforms while still being able to take advantage of the power of WebRTC for external communications.
E-SBCs compete against other network vendors
Extending mobile device support and pushing into WebRTC applications will enhance the value of E-SBCs for businesses, as well as raise the strategic importance of SBCs within the UC infrastructure. At the same time, these new capabilities bring E-SBCs into new markets that could disrupt the service provider market and any number of UC and mobile device management markets. As new fertile ground, all these vendors are gearing up to support WebRTC within their environments or platforms. Of course, each is approaching it from a slightly different angle, and all are offering largely differing opinions on the best deployment scenario for real-time Web communications.
Likewise, the mobile space continues to be hot, with any number of competitors coming in from all fronts trying to define the best way to support mobile users and their devices. Ultimately, each of the potential deployment scenarios for WebRTC and mobile connectivity has unique advantages and disadvantages. For enterprises that prefer an on-premises infrastructure and have the IT staff to support it, E-SBCs will be a very attractive alternative to outsourcing these technologies.
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