Avaya moves to open architecture IP PBX

After years of pushing its closed IP PBX system, Avaya is jumping on the session initiation protocol bandwagon with a SIP-based version of its communications platform.

In May it will release branch, standard and enterprise editions of the open platform under the Avaya Aura brand, promising to give organizations the ability to create new applications and quickly extend them to users, map applications to individual users and to reduce costs.

The benefit of a SIP-based system is that it can talk to any PBX from any manufacturer that communicates in SIP, said Tracy Fleming, a senior consulting engineer at Avaya Canada. That’s quite an advantage because most organizations have a mix of PBX systems, he said, but are eager to move to unified communications.

In most systems, applications – such as a dial plan – are tied to the network, Fleming said, including Avaya’s traditional IP PBX platform: An Avaya application needed an Avaya handset connecting to an Avaya media gateway.

“We’re changing that entire methodology” with Aura, he said. “We’re now saying we can have Avaya applications and applications from third parties plug into our architecture that can be shared. It does not require an end-to-end Avaya architecture.”

Aura can scale to 250,000 uses and 25,000 locations, the company said.

SIP is a signalling protocol used for establishing sessions in an IP network. Under SIP, telephony becomes another Web application and integrates easily into other Internet services. Avaya’s version of SIP is based on the IMS (IP multimedia subsystem) framework.

Aura systems will initially be sold as a 1U Linux-based server running Session Manager, which centralizes communications control and application integration. By uncoupling applications from the network, Session Manager deploys services to users depending on what they need rather than where they work. “With Session Manager you can now overlay across multiple third-party systems and provide central routing and provisioning,” said Fleming.

Ultimately the platform will be sold without hardware for those who prefer to mount it on their own servers. In addition to Session Manager, there are several enabling applications:

-Communications Manager, the company’s standard telephony software. However, under a full Aura deployment instead of being the heart of the system it is a feature server;

-Presence Services, which used to be called Intelligent Presence Services, expands the ability to blend presence from multiple sources, such as IBM Sametime and Microsoft Office Communications Server platforms;

-and Application Enablement Services and Integrated Manager modules.

Other optional plug-ins can take advantage of SIP. For example, on a system with PBXs from multiple manufactures a messaging system had to be trunked to each PBX. Under Aura, Avaya’s Modular Messaging plug-in can automatically enable other applications that talk to Session Manager.

These can be bought separately. For example, Fleming said he’s talking now to customers who want to deploy Aura Session Manager alone strictly to connect disparate PBXs.

The three bundled versions differ in functionality, while pricing depends on the number of seats. Enterprise Edition includes Session Manager in the pricing and can be used for multiple instances, as well as all unified communications features. In Standard Edition, Session Manager costs $50,000 per instance, ideal for organizations that need only one instance. Standard Edition’s version of Communication Manager has standard telephony and video functions only. UC functionality can be had for $50 a user. Branch Edition comes with a special version of Communication Manager with local features that connects to a core Aura Standard or Enterprise edition. However, its versions of Session Manager won’t be be available until late this year.

“The product announcement is less important than the overall vision,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research at Yankee Group. Many organizations make the mistake of replacing their old PBX systems with IP PBXs not only in the central offices, but also in branches. That’s slowed adoption of new technology, he said. As a result, Yankee Group research notes that 85 per cent of organizations have VoIP somewhere in the company, but only 10 per cent have it deployed across the entire organization.

Other manufactures use SIP, but haven’t built a new architecture for distributed deployment, he said. “The Aura architecture … significantly simplifies the deployment and allows it to scale.” But Avaya will have to do “some vision-selling,” he added. “Avaya needs to convince its customers they need to look at a different architecture.”

“The concept is sound but it’s got to be taken to a software or application architect.” Avaya’s main competitors are Microsoft and Cisco Systems, said Kerravala, both of whom have larger partner bases. For Avaya to challenge it needs this new approach, he said.

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