Last month, at VoiceCon in Orlando, Fla., Avaya revealed its Aura vision and related products. Based on the number of questions I've received since then on what it is and what it means, I don't think Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy really explained why this announcement is a significant one for companies looking to deploy VoIP and unified communications (UC), not just for Avaya customers.
The Aura vision promotes a new deployment architecture for UC similar to the architecture for corporate Web and IP-based applications. The reason I think this is significant is that historically, as an industry, we've failed to get maximum bang for the buck with UC because the deployment architecture being followed by most companies is similar to that of traditional communications. We're losing the dynamic, flexible nature of IP by thinking "layer 2" with the deployments.
To understand this, think back to the days of traditional PBXs. Each location, no matter how small, had its own PBX or key system. This wasn't by choice; it was because traditional voice systems worked at layer 2 and could not extend functionality past the direct connection. This meant that the decision on what type of solution to buy was made on a node-by-node basis. Companies often had numerous voice providers, and users had a highly inconsistent experience from office to office.
Now consider a Web or IP-based application. The servers are located centrally in a data center and the application is distributed across the WAN to all users, even remote ones. All users access the same application no matter where they are, simplifying the user experience and administrative tasks. When a user changes location, a technician does not need to come in and perform a costly "move," as with traditional voice systems. This works because it's at the IP layer, not at layer 2. IP is a dynamic, scalable protocol that's not location-dependent and creates great economies for large-scale deployments.
What I see from most companies as they deploy VoIP or UC is that when a PBX is ready to retire, the organization removes the old PBX and replaces it with a new IP PBX but keeps the deployment architecture the same. Sure, many companies today are standardizing on a single vendor, which helps, but many of the benefits of IP aren't being realized.
Aura promotes marrying VoIP and UC with the Web world. That is using a centralized architecture based on standards-based, loosely coupled components. This type of centralized architecture will be significantly simpler than traditional voice deployments and will scale as fast as the organization wants it to. This type of architecture is essentially the enterprise equivalent of how network operators have leveraged IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) deployments for years. Using a centralized architecture based on loosely coupled objects has enabled telecoms to roll out services and deliver them to millions of subscribers around the globe.
This Aura architecture also promotes the use of SIP. The use of SIP as the communications protocol will help companies connect to external service providers through the use of SIP trunking and, eventually, other cloud-based rich media services. Ultimately, following this type of Web architecture will allow enterprises to follow a service provider model and serve the corporate end users faster and more easily.
Overall, I liked the Aura announcement from Avaya, although the company could have done a better job of explaining exactly why it matters to organizations. Thinking about UC as a standards-based software platform based on loosely coupled services will help combat many of the complexity problems that organizations face today with deployments.