Cisco details convergence architecture

Cisco Systems Inc. pushed its voice/data convergence strategy forward last month by introducing a converged architecture that relies on a portfolio of new and existing products.

The architecture, known as the Architecture for Voice, Video and Integrated Data (AVVID), currently includes Cisco IP telephones, Cisco CallManager call processing software, the Cisco Media Convergence Server 7830 and new digital gateways.

“The idea is we’re bringing together technology that’s happening in a lot of different parts of Cisco that works well together,” said Byron Henderson, Cisco’s director of product marketing for the enterprise line of bsuiness. “We decided it was time to bring it under one umbrella and talk about it with customers in a unified way.”

While Cisco is decidedly bullish on running voice over IP networks, executives acknowledged the conversion from traditional voice networks to converged voice/data networks won’t happen overnight.

“The interest is tremendous,” said Bob Clay, a product line manager in the enterprise business unit. “But there is an education curve and that’s the reason for doing this launch now.”

Initially, Clay said, enterprises will run voice over IP networks alongside traditional voice networks. Full convergence will happen once voice over IP products become more established and enterprises finish depreciating their existing voice equipment.

Recognising that companies are not prepared to throw away their legacy voice equipment is an important step for Cisco, according to Dataquest Inc. analyst Drew Kraus.

“A lot of their messages have been around the idea that customers will replace their existing circuit-switched phone systems, throw them out and put in IP-based systems,” Kraus said. “The marketing on this shows a shift where they realise companies aren’t likely to throw away all the existing investment in voice-based systems. The new strategy is more of a transition strategy than a rip out and replace strategy.”

The AVVID element that caught Kraus’ eye was the IP Call Center, part of the new release of Cisco’s CallManager. Kraus said the product should be solid, because it’s based on technology Cisco picked up from its acquisition of GeoTel Communications Corp. earlier this year.

The Call Center allows firms to unite enterprise data applications with voice calls. For instance, when a call comes into a call centre, the GeoTel software could identify the caller from a phone number, check a database for information related to that caller and have the database information sent to a call centre operator at the same time as the voice call.

While convergence products aren’t yet a booming business, analysts say they are showing up on users’ radar screens.

“We did a study about a year ago and found out users’ didn’t always understand what convergence was,” said Rob Colraine, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto. “There was some interest in some areas, but not a lot…I think the vendors have educated the users over the past year and that it (convergence) could be something we see more of soon.”

Dataquest’s Kraus said the only current implementors of end-to-end convergence appear to be new companies, small companies and companies looking for technology to provide an overall strategic advantage.

“This is still cutting edge stuff and still bleeding edge,” he said.

The AVVID elements announced last month are: Cisco CallManager 2.4, which extends telephony features to packet networks; the Cisco Media Convergence Server 7830 (MCS-7830), a high-availability server, which includes the CallManager software; digital gateways, the DT-24+, which supports 23 voice channels on a T1 interface and the DE-30+, which supports 30 voice channels and an E1 interface; and IP telephone handsets.

The MCS-7830 lists at US$14,995 including the CallManager software, the gateways list at US$10,000 for the DT-24+ and US$12,000 for the DT-30+; and the IP handsets begin listing at US$385.