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Unified communications infrastructure virtualization now a reality

Unified communications vendors are starting to introduce unified communications (UC) infrastructure that can be deployed via server virtualization, reducing capital outlays and management overhead for enterprises with limited resources.

Unified communications vendors are starting to introduce unified communications (UC) infrastructures that can be deployed via server virtualization, reducing capital outlays and management overhead for enterprises with limited resources.

Last month, Avaya introduced Avaya Aura System Platform, a virtualized server that runs multiple Avaya Aura unified communications applications on a single server. In the past, Avaya sold each individual element of its unified communications infrastructure on a single dedicated box. Mitel announced last June that it was working with VMware to produce "VMware Ready" versions of its unified communications products. Alcatel-Lucent has had its Business integrated Communications Solution (BiCS) product on the market for a couple of years.

Avaya's product limits enterprises to deploying only Avaya products on an Avaya-branded server. Mitel and Alcatel's products allow customers to deploy their unified communications products on any industry-standard server and run them concurrently on a virtualized server with other non-Mitel virtualized applications.

Virtualized unified communications infrastructures offer several advantages to enterprises, according to Rob Arnold, senior analyst for enterprise communications at Current Analysis.

"All the applications are integrated into one platform, so right there you kind of lower the barrier of entry with your applications," Arnold said. "There is no additional hardware to buy, which lowers the overall hardware cost, overall maintenance cost and overall real estate required for that hardware – therefore, your power and cooling requirements are reduced."

From hosted PBX to virtualized unified communications infrastructure

A hosted PBX service had for years suited MECCA Services, a substance abuse treatment center with multiple locations across Iowa, according to IT director Todd Yelland. But growth in the organization forced a change.

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"We're a large enough organization that the monthly recurring fees for a hosted system was a lot," Yelland said, "and we could easily pay for our own system with payments equal to three years of lease payments."

Yelland wanted to bring his communications in house because he also wanted more control over the system. "We had to rely too much on the provider for help with basic things," he said. "If I wanted to change my phone from extension 123 to 234, I had to call them and then they had to reconfigure the phone. Then I had to reboot the phone. Then I had to call them back and tell them it didn't work."

Yelland knew he wanted an on-premise unified communications system, but he didn't want to deploy something with a great deal of management overhead. While in conversations with Avaya, he was quoted a deployment with multiple physical servers and gateways for Communications Manager, Communication Manager Messaging and various other unified communications products currently in Avaya's Aura product line.

"I said, 'Come on, this really isn't what I'm looking for,'" Yelland said. He wanted to deploy his entire unified communications infrastructure on a single virtualized server. "[The sales rep] said they had a new product coming out and that she'd check to see if it was available."

So Yelland and MECCA Services became an early beta customer of Avaya Aura System Platform.

"We came from a hosted solution, so we didn't come from a multiple server kind of environment," he said. "But I knew that [a non-virtualized approach] would be more to manage, so I just stayed clear of it."

Overcoming technical challenges to virtualized UC

Server virtualization has been transforming the way business applications are deployed in a data center for years, but until recently unified communications infrastructure was not a part of that adoption wave.

"The reason nobody ever put a voice application in a virtual environment before is due to the nature of call control software applications," said Alan Zurakowski, manager of business development and strategic alliances at Mitel. "They are processing your voice speech patterns in real time on all different kinds of endpoint devices throughout the network and in the data center. And whenever there is a bottleneck or not enough processing CPU capacity or not enough memory in the switch that call is going through, that manifests itself [as] bad call quality."

"We've been testing this for about 18 months with VMware," Zurakowski said. "We made design changes on our side and VMware did in vSphere 4, specifically to allow real-time voice to run with high call quality."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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