Product: Communications Manager
Product Description: Centralized VoIP server and infrastructure management and reliability tools
Class: Enterprise level communications, where multiple sites or an HQ-plus-branch-office configuration requires reliable, failure-resistant communications infrastructure
Cost: Starting at $100,000 for large or HQ sites and up
You'll love this product if: Your enterprise doesn't mind deploying multiple central site and remote or branch offers servers to achieve rock-solid communications that can withstand central server failures, where central server failover to backup servers, and local server takeovers stand ready to keep phone systems working even should central server or communication link failures occur
You won't if: You are a small to medium company, because you can find more cost effective options, or might require less expensive and extensive infrastructure options
Early Adopters: University of Washington (30,000 line system on 3 campuses)
Fringe Benefits: Enables much easier tie-ins with local 911 response services required for service providers and large-scale private system operators
Reliability remains a constant point of comparison between VoIP and conventional telephone systems. Many VoIP implementations come off second best in such standoffs because they haven't proven to possess the same levels of reliability, flexibility, and failover as conventional switch-based telephone networks at many levels (from PBX to CLEC to regional carriers).
According to the company, the most recent release of Avaya Communications Manager includes multiple components that will permit organizations to better handle failures within their VoIP infrastructures. Among these components are:
- Enterprise Survivable Server (ESS): enables users to place backup ESS servers at multiple locations within an enterprise, and permits a backup to take over the entire enterprise or a portion of the enterprise should the primary server go down, or communications to that server be disrupted.
- Avaya Branch Connect Solutions: through either the Avaya G150 or G250 Media Gateways, various recovery and survivability options are available. These include access to power over Ethernet for plug-and-play phones, dual WAN connections with dial-up failover to ensure continuing communications, and survivability features to keep local phones working even when links to ESS or other similar servers are lost (only the G250 offers this last capability, however).
In addition, Avaya is making APIs to these environments openly available, so value-added software developers can build applications to leverage VoIP capabilities and to enable next-generation Web services that incorporate VoIP. It's not unreasonable to speculate that similar developments could expand on existing management and recovery capabilities as well, whether developed in-house or by third parties. Also, new handsets and SIP endpoints make up part of this latest set of product revisions, designed to increase VoIP access, usability, management, and control.
In an interview with Avaya customer and early adopter, the University of Washington eWeek reports that after ramping up to 30,000 lines on an Avaya system across three campuses, the University quickly realized that while earlier implementations of Communications Manager scaled well, they weren't as reliable as the Centrex or Definity systems they were rapidly replacing. The University began working with pre-release versions of the latest Communications Manager implementation in spring 2005 seeking ways to boost reliability and survivability in the event of disruptions. And even though the University has since migrated to the new version, they continue to maintain a Centrex-like telephone system as a backup to their Avaya system.
Nevertheless, this points to means and mechanisms whereby enterprise-class VoIP systems can match the reliability and survivability capabilities of their conventional predecessors. I'll be surprised if other vendors don't follow suit quickly. That's because enterprises and large organizations need this kind of capability, and won't consider systems that lack it for purchase or deployment.
These management products are designed from the ground up for enterprise use, and should thus scale well even for the largest organizations (the pilot at the University of Washington, with 30,000 lines certainly makes for a plausible demonstration of scalability). Deploying ESS also requires purchasing Avaya Communications Manager and one of the company's S8000-class Media Server platforms. Costs for such solutions are likely to begin at around $100,000 and will rise as the number of lines, servers, and locations increases. Branch Connect Solutions also require purchasing Avaya G150 or G240 Media Gateways, and are likely to begin at around $20,000 and will also increase as the number of failover and survivability options go up. Nevertheless, many large corporations, service providers, and governmental and private institutions are eyeing these options seriously or have already adopted them—including American Express (Bahrain), Sleeman/Unibroue (Canada), Coamo (Brazil), among many others. For organizations large enough to shoulder such costs, these solutions are worth evaluating.
For more information on this topic, see the IDC Executive Brief entitled "Managing Data, Voice, and Converged IP Networks" on the Avaya site.
Ed Tittel is a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Web sites, and the author of over 100 books on a wide range of computing subjects from markup languages to information security. He's also a contributing editor for Certification Magazine, and edits Que Publishing's Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series of cert prep books. E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.